A version of this post originally appeared on September 20, 2019, in “Eat, Drink, Watch” — the weekly newsletter for people who want to order takeout and watch TV. Browse the archives and subscribe now.
I’ve got notes on one of the most surprising documentary releases of the year, plus a roundup of the week’s food-related entertainment news. Up first, the movie:
A Super Size Me sequel that probably should have stayed in the vaults
The biggest surprise about Super Size Me 2: Holy Chicken!, a feature-length follow-up to Morgan Spurlock’s hit 2004 fast-food documentary, is that it was ever released in the first place.
The movie was filmed three years ago, and premiered to mostly positive reviews at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2017. But shortly after signing a distribution deal with YouTube Red, Spurlock dropped a bombshell confession outlining his history of sexual misconduct. The statement noted a decades-old rape allegation, numerous acts of cheating on his partners, and a sexual harassment claim involving a young woman who worked for the filmmaker at his production company, Warrior Poets, that was settled out of court. Spurlock completely disappeared from the public eye after his confession, and YouTube Red dropped the movie. For over a year, Super Size Me 2 seemed all but dead until distributor Samuel Goldwyn Films made a surprise announcement over the summer that it was going to release the film.
The film, released last week in select theaters and as a video-on-demand, makes no mention of Spurlock’s confession or anything that happened since its festival debut. Instead, this is the same documentary that appeared at TIFF two years ago: A lively tale of Spurlock’s attempt to raise a flock of poultry and open a tongue-in-cheek fried chicken sandwich restaurant in Columbus, Ohio.
By far, the most enlightening and entertaining parts of the film are Spurlock’s meetings with various brand consultants and commercial food experts who break down the psychology of the “health halo” that all the big chains are obsessed with right now — a magic combination of trendy ingredients and packaging that make junk food appear healthy in the eyes of many consumers. Super Size Me 2 also clearly presents the issues that small chicken farmers face as a result of the “tournament system,” where poultry payouts from companies like Tyson are determined by an ever-changing ranking of chicken coops (an episode of Netflix’s excellent docuseries Rotten also explored this seemingly-corrupt system in much more vivid detail).
The film culminates in the well-publicized opening of Spurlock’s fast-food restaurant, Holy Chicken, with the documentarian shaking hands, posing for photos, and ringing up customers who all seem starstruck by the filmmaker. At the end of the doc, Suplock mentions that he’s received calls from potential investors with franchise offers. But as it turns out, Holy Chicken was just a four-day pop-up, and, aside from a similarly temporary run in Manhattan this month, there have been no announcements about plans to open any future iterations of the restaurant.
While promoting the new film, Spurlock has been candid about his past behavior and how his confession completely torpedoed the film’s original release (it also prompted most of the Warrior Poets staff to quit). It sounds like the filmmaker, now 600+ days sober, is trying to make amends. But there’s still something unsettling about Super Size Me 2 itself not addressing his sexual misconduct and the fallout that resulted from it, because the film itself is as much about Spurlock as it is about the poultry industry — the word “me” is even in the damn title of the movie.
Everyone knows Spurlock as the guy who became famous for eating nothing but McDonald’s for a month — even the farmers who he’s trying to buy chicken from. The movie includes several scenes filmed at the Warrior Poets office, and the whole movie is framed around the idea that Spurlock is such a charismatic showman that he’s going to shake up the fast-food industry with yet another clever stunt. It’s clear, while watching the movie, that Spurlock is operating from a position of power. But as we know, behind the scenes, he was abusing that power. For this reason, it’s particularly unnerving to hear Spurlock tell the camera early in the film, “Now, if I’ve learned anything out of making a career out of questionable life choices, it’s that sometimes the only way to find the truth and solve a problem is to become a part of that problem.”
During an interview with Business Insider this month, Spurlock said that it was “impossible” to edit himself out of the documentary because, “You’re following me for the whole movie.” My hunch is that if Spurlock — an award-winning filmmaker with dozens of movie credits to his name — really wanted to, he could have at least made some changes to place more emphasis on the people who work in the chicken industry, and found some way to address the recent developments in his life. But by ignoring the controversy altogether, the documentary feels less like a food world exposé from the vaults, and more like a bizarre attempt at brand rehabilitation for Morgan Spurlock in the post-#MeToo era.
In other entertainment news…
Have a great weekend everyone, and if you’re looking for something to do with those late summer tomatoes, I highly recommend checking out this savory tart recipe from East Hampton’s most famous chef, Ina Garten.