Fast-food restaurants have become so ingrained in American life that it's hard to imagine the country without them. There's nothing particularly natural or pre-ordained about Americans shoveling burgers and fries down their gullets at ever-increasing rates, but McDonald's has largely succeeded in making itself synonymous with its home country. When it comes to serving the public good, Ronald McDonald is only one step up from Joe Camel, but that hasn't kept him from becoming a goodwill ambassador in every country where McDonald's peddles food, folks, and/or fun. One of the great triumphs of the entertaining new documentary Super Size Me is that it forces audiences to step back and see the country's addiction to fatty food as not only preventable, but unnatural.
An irresistible combination of muckraking activism and populist entertainment, Super Size Me takes a page out of the Michael Moore playbook by using a David-vs.-Goliath-style personal quest as a starting point for an irreverent and impassioned critique of a pressing social issue. Also like Moore, writer-director-star Morgan Spurlock employs humor and truth as blunt instruments for change, and casts himself as the film's wisecracking, affable protagonist. The documentary focuses on Spurlock's courageous resolve to eat nothing but McDonald's food for a whole month, but digresses to explore connected issues like unhealthy school lunches and stomach stapling. Of course, it doesn't take a nutritionist to predict that a steady diet of McGriddle sandwiches and fries will cause anyone to blimp out, but the effect McDonald's food has on Spurlock's body, health, and mind (not to mention his sex drive) is nevertheless dramatic.
Spurlock's persona suggests a kinder, gentler Moore, and his film compares favorably to the wonderful pop documentaries of Ron Mann. He makes particularly smart use of music, especially in a pointed sequence that juxtaposes Ronald McDonald rocking out with children with Curtis Mayfield's "Pusherman." Following in the tradition of Upton Sinclair's The Jungle and Eric Schlosser's Fast Food Nation, Spurlock's film proves yet again that the phrase "crowd-pleasing documentary" doesn't have to be an oxymoron.