Morningstar Entertainment // 2009 // 104 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge William Lee (Retired) // February 26th, 2009
You've been fed a load of bologna!
Every popular voice has its detractor and every successful documentary will have its facts criticized. Michael Moore's working class politics and Al Gore's environmental crusade draw dissenting opinions because those battlefronts are very polarizing. Surprisingly, the popular notion of healthy eating can also divide people. The documentary Fat Head addresses the disinformation surrounding the obesity epidemic in the United States. Modeled as a follow-up film, writer-director Tom Naughton sets his sights on Morgan Spurlock's Super Size Me with a mind to exposing that film's lies which have popularized an unhealthy, anti-fat food mentality.
Naughton is described as a comedian and former health writer on the back of the DVD box and while the film contains moments that support the latter description, it isn't a good display of his comic ability. Unless you crack up when hearing "cuckoo" sound effects when a picture of Ralph Nader is flashed on screen, the attempts to inject humor into the proceedings are more annoying than funny. A large part of the problem is that Naughton believes the public -- especially those who have watched Super Size Me -- are stupid. If you've seen that movie, he assumes, you must have automatically bought its message without question. For stupid people like you and me, simple animations, dumbed-down quizzes and other condescending presentation tools illustrate Naughton's truth about health. In street interviews, Naughton can't help but look down his nose at common people and their faulty "common sense" beliefs about fatty food. As expected, people view his tray of fast food as high in fat, but Naughton knows better because he's done the math and knows his lunch is within the recommended daily intake of calories.
Mimicking Spurlock's stunt diet, Naughton -- he's technically obese, according to the Body Mass Index measurement -- commits to a 30-day regimen of fat-laden fast food to show that he can stay healthy and enjoy his eating habits too. The difference is that he will exert some self-control over his menu choices. There are some pointed pokes at Spurlock and a few of them have merit. For example, Naughton shows how the numbers don't quite add up when looking at Spurlock's meal choices. However, other smoking guns that Naughton presents sound more like him blowing smoke. It's really unnecessary to see him standing outside a fast food restaurant to make the point that no one is literally forcing him to eat fast food. Naughton also relishes the chance to just say "no" to fries. Personally, that's an eating decision I can't get behind.
Perhaps there is a deeper reason for Naughton's beef with Spurlock aside from Super Size Me being a big success that has inspired widespread hatred for McDonald's? There is the suggestion that Spurlock was in cahoots with lawyers waiting for a chance to sue the burger empire. The gullible media, government meddling and the vegetarian lobby also get fingers pointed their way.
The best parts of Fat Head are densely packed in a slow middle section. Naughton has done some good research into health science so there is useful information here: explanations of LDL and HDL; what cholesterol does for you; and the differences between natural saturated fats versus processed oils and trans fats. Briefly, he also looks at the Center for Science in the Public Interest and raises legitimate questions about that group's intentions. Some of this material would have been more effective in another documentary without the condescension and open dislike for Spurlock. If Naughton could get past the belief that he's talking to idiots, his skill for reducing complex science into easily explainable terms would render some of this as valuable educational material for kids.
Naughton takes Spurlock to task for demonizing fatty food and ignoring the health hazards of excessive carbohydrates and sugars. There is something to that argument but it's lost in the ill-conceived, confrontational presentation of Fat Head. By nitpicking small details, Naughton misses the bigger picture of Super Size Me. That film was popular because it was entertaining: it was funny, it had drama and Spurlock's character got us involved in his story. We knew it was a manufactured situation and that what he was doing was a stunt. Nevertheless, the message still inspired people to be more aware of their fast food eating habits. Fat Head wants to invalidate that message but it offers viewers nothing positive as an alternative.
A self-financed film, Fat Head has a consumer-quality video presentation. The picture exhibits harsh, jagged edge details, colors are neutral and there isn't a lot of contrast depth. The lighting and compositions of the talking head interviews with an assortment of health experts are on par with that of a cheap, late-night infomercial. The 1.78:1 anamorphic image fills the 16x9 screen most of the time but there are a few scenes presented in a 1.33:1 ratio with black bars on the sides. The stereo audio track works fine with clear dialogue and music.
Also included on this DVD are 37 minutes of bonus interview footage. Indexed into five chapter stops, these feature the various health experts Naughton has found. Away from the editing tricks of the film, these experts sound more legitimate when they're allowed to speak at length.
Fat Head doesn't inspire me to each more fast food, but there's some good information here if you look past the negative attitude. Viewers looking to rationalize eating more fat-laden foods may find some ammunition for their argument. As a whole, Naughton's vague message is hard to swallow.
Review content copyright © 2009 William Lee; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2015 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Morningstar Entertainment
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 104 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Not Rated