20 05 2014

Fed UpFed Up” certainly trumpets its connection to the Al Gore lecture doc “An Inconvenient Truth,” which got plenty of people alarmed about the subject of climate change and (perhaps more importantly for marketing) won an Oscar. Stephanie Soechtig’s documentary, narrated by Katie Couric, does indeed offer many frightening reasons to get concerned about the obesity epidemic that has been plaguing America for the past 30 years.

Yet the impact is dulled by the film’s voracious desire to bite off more than it can chew.  It covers far too many subjects in its 98 minute runtime than it can handle, each feeling slightly less persuasive than the one before it.  The journey to her call to action is so exhausting that, ironically, it made me want to reach for some horribly fattening sweet treat from the freezer..

Soechtig wisely begins by breaking down the science of nutrition and obesity, shedding some helpful light on what is actually making our country fat.  A calorie is not just a calorie, and exercising to burn them off can only put a dent in the problem.  Many issues stem from the overconsumption of sugar, which is often hidden in processed foods by using confusing polysyllabic names as fronts.

The film then wades into the murkier grounds of politics and business, and the wheels begin to fall off.  At times, “Fed Up” resembles Charles Ferguson’s stellar documentary “Inside Job” with its fervent attacks on the dangerous intertwining of the two institutions.  Yet it lacks the zeal to really chide politics and business as usual.

Fed Up photo

Couric’s interview soft-balls former President Bill Clinton, allowing him to claim plausible deniability of the potential magnitude of the obesity epidemic in case the documentary were to make a cultural impact while his wife runs for President.  The film portrays Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” campaign as slightly naive in premise; however, it refuses to hold her feet to the fire for buddying up with the same food industry that has been lambasted throughout.

Also unlike the masterfully paced “Inside Job,” “Fed Up” jumps from topic to topic – advertising to children, sugar industry lobbyists, school cafeterias, just to name a few – making tenuous connections between its various subjects.  Soechtig, furthermore, makes clunky cross-cuts to personal narratives about obese children, the victims of the obesity epidemic doomed to live shorter lives than their parents.  The intent must have been to humanize the subject matter, but it backfires tremendously.  These children are not given enough time on screen, making it difficult for the audience to build sympathy for them.  When we’re given a window into their woes, it just feels like an awkward distraction from the intellectual issue at hand.

Without a laser-sharp focus driving its call-to-action, “Fed Up” seems destined to fall in the pile of has-been en vogue summer docs with 2009’s “Food, Inc.”  Although, I will say, I’ve been hesitant to eat processed foods since watching this documentary.  Small steps, I guess.  B2halfstars



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