Where’s the Beef?

Morgan Spurlock picks up another balanced mean, in Super Size Me.Photo: Roadside Attractions

You can’t get much more high-concept than the Sundance audience fave Super Size Me, in which director Morgan Spurlock films himself for 30 days in twenty cities eating only at McDonald’s. His self-imposed ground rules require that he eat three squares a day, covering everything on the menu at least once in the month; he also has to say yes every time a McD’s employee asks him, “Do you want that Supersized?” Spurlock is a muckraker in the Michael Moore mold, and he claims to have made this movie to document firsthand the unhealthiness of our fast-food nation. But he also knows how to play to the camera: This is the class clown’s science project.

Thirty-three and, initially at least, in excellent health, Spurlock spends a lot of screen time stuffing himself. Rarely has a person consumed so much on film, unless you count Al Pacino’s scenery-chewing. He includes interviews with nutritionists, gluttons (e.g., a rail-thin guy who eats over 700 Big Macs a year), and lawyers suing the fast-food industry. He brings in a team of doctors who monitor his increasingly alarming physical condition as his weight jumps 25 pounds and his cholesterol 60 points over the month. He suffers depression, headaches, sugar/caffeine crashes. His liver turns to foie gras. His girlfriend, who is, of all things, a vegan chef, is aghast. She reminds him, during their last supper before the monthlong Mac attack, that he will soon be eating only genetically modified potatoes. Would she feel better if the fatty fries were organic?

“Rarely has a person consumed so much on film, unless you count Al Pacino’s scenery-chewing.”

As entertaining as Super Size Me sometimes is, I’m not sure what Spurlock’s escapade really accomplishes, except to emphasize that eating 5,000 calories a day, and exercising little, is bad for you. He could have achieved much the same dire results dining exclusively at high-end French eateries. (I suggest New York’s restaurant critics take up this question, with myself as adviser and dining companion.) Spurlock is right to target America’s alarming obesity problem, but watching him get the McGurgles or McGas is not exactly inspiring. Neither is watching him McRalph, and I also could have done without the up-close segment on gastric-bypass surgery. His movie is an attack on our eating habits, but it’s also a prime example of an all-American sport—making a spectacle of oneself for fun and profit. Spurlock, you’ll be surprised to learn, is developing a TV spinoff, with himself as host.

Mean Girls is a smart little teen picture that, for a change, actually features recognizable teens. It’s the newest entry on a very short list that includes Clueless, Heathers, School of Rock, and not much else. Adapting Rosalind Wiseman’s nonfiction best-seller Queen Bees and Wannabes: Helping Your Daughter Survive Cliques, Gossip, Boyfriends and Other Realities of Adolescence, Saturday Night Live’s Tina Fey, who also plays a math teacher, approaches the subject head-on: She’s a cultural anthropologist with a sharp, satiric streak. What’s surprising is that the film is also rather sweet; it’s far less judgmental about these girls than they are about each other.

Cady Heron (Lindsay Lohan), a 15-year-old from Africa, embarks on her own personal safari when she enters a suburban-Chicago high school and immediately gets pulled into a vortex of cliques—the Plastics, the Mathletes, and the freaks and geeks in between. The queen bee of the Plastics, Rachel McAdams’s glamorously nasty Regina, is the school trend-setter who quickly sizes up wide-eyed Cady as competition and befriends her in order to keep her close by. But although Cady is an innocent, she’s no fool; she ultimately goes Plastic to deliver Regina’s comeuppance, then gets her own, too. Director Mark Waters (Freaky Friday) has a generous way with his young cast members. They look like they’re summoning up their own worst high-school experiences—and enjoying every minute of it. Nobody gets slammed in this movie who doesn’t deserve it. In other words, everybody gets it.

Where’s the Beef?