Morgan Spurlock is back, with another documentary about the fast food industry sure to ruffle feathers. For SUPERSIZE ME 2: HOLY CHICKEN, he's gone all in -- he's opened his own fast food restaurant, and even has his own chicken farm where he helps raise the birds himself. I saw it at the world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival with Morgan Spurlock and some of the cast in attendance.
It is a brilliant concept, one that shows us all the behind the scenes decisions that must go into such a business. It's one thing to snipe about the industry from New York, but yet another to have some skin in the game. First, he does some market research -- turns out chicken has now overtaken beef in the US as the most consumed meat. So, having decided on a chicken restaurant, he goes about getting a loan and farm, acquiring the birds, planning a menu, locating a space, and even marketing. As he does each, he talks to some of the top experts in the field, and we see the ways fast food has changed in the years since SUPERSIZE ME. It isn't a stretch to say he had a big role to play in that evolution. In that sense, calling this SUPERSIZE ME 2 isn't just pure marketing.
If you think you have this movie figured out: coastal elites scolding mainstream America about their dietary choices, you're wrong. That's why the conceit is so brilliant. Spurlock has to become a fast food restaurateur to see the pressures they face, but also has to tread a fine line, lest he go over to the dark side. Some of the choices he makes are surprising, which makes the movie all the more fascinating.
Morgan Spurlock is a brilliant entertainer. He's a great filmmaker, sure - he knows exactly how to take a pile of facts and turn it into an engaging, heartfelt human drama. But he is almost unique in being able to take an idea and immerse himself in it so fully, that you can't help but engage. And his promotional skills are equally extraordinary. He even brought a HOLY CHICKEN food truck to the film festival.
The core of the story he finds here is the plight of the American chicken farmer. The American chicken industry -- dominated by 5 big brands, are squeezing the farmers to the point of bankruptcy using unethical practices and deceit, and blackballing anyone who speaks out against them. The farmers are effectively sharecroppers. Fortunately for us, a few farmers were brave enough to stand up and tell their stories in the movie, even risking their own livelihoods to do so. This human dimension makes for a hell of a compelling and eye-opening film.
The glue that holds Morgan Spurlock's moral code together as he dabbles in the industry he previously savaged is honesty and transparency about what he's doing. At least that's true about his marketing and fast food decisions. About his real intentions here, I have a feeling he's obscuring a bit. What happened after he used up his initial chickens? Did he get more from Big Chicken? Probably not, but he doesn't answer it. He implies that he'll expand his single restaurant. I just don't see a filmmaker getting bogged down in a new industry. Maybe he'll license the idea, though this runs the risk of damaging his brand. And surely film financiers funded this restaurant, giving them a stake. I don't think he's lying, I'm just saying there were unanswered questions. I hope he has good answers, since the chicken lobby is going to seize on anything to try to discredit him.
I know well the difficulty in making something both educational and entertaining, and with HOLY CHICKEN, Morgan Spurlock has shown he's one of the best people on the planet at this game. If this movie can't get changes made that ease the noose around chicken farmer' necks, then there is something drastically wrong with America. Well, there manifestly is, but this film shows there's something right too.