Pop Culture at its Best

‘That Sugar Film’ is a familiar and trite stunt-doc

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That Sugar Film
Directed by Damon Gameau
Written by Damon Gameau
Australia, 2014

The Australian doc That Sugar Film comes ten years after Morgan Spurlock’s novel Sundance hit Super Size Me, the sobering and darkly comedic expose on the fast food industry that took audiences by storm and spurred change in regards to how high profile companies like McDonald’s portioned some of their meal options; it also charted the effect of said company’s product on the body, an experiment that now feels cheap and dated in the hands of writer-director and test subject Damon Gameau, who not only copies Spurlock’s approach to test and trial, but finds little reason to keep us intrigued.

Gameau’s plan to upend his healthy eating lifestyle with a high sugar diet as we watch his mood and weight fluctuate is hardly anything eye-opening after Spurlock’s similar antics just a decade ago. More specifically, the plan to consume 40 teaspoons of sugar every day for two months not only becomes tired and familiar, but Gameau’s decision to lace the film with cute visual and ironic musical cues throughout suggests that the director truly knows how little of substance he’s providing us with. Instead of traditional talking heads, the film’s scientists and nutritionists deliver information to the audience as their faces are juxtaposed on the side of a yogurt container or on a TV at the gym. At one point, fellow Australian Hugh Jackman pops up dressed as a magician to deliver the condensed history of sugar; none of this is, ahem, sweet.

That Sugar Film

In one detour that initially seems promising, Gameau shifts his attention away from home and travels to Barbourville, Kentucky for some ground-level documentation. We soon meet Larry Hammons, a 17-year-old who regularly consumes a 12-pack of Mountain Dew per day. Though Gameau sets Larry up with a dentist to have all of his rotting and decayed teeth removed for dentures, this section feels condescending and ill-focused, an easy, convenient trip to single out “Mountain Dew Mouth” in this tiny region and eventually move on. We’re privy to some of the dental work being done on young Larry, but it fails to register as noble or sincere.

Along the way, as Gameau routinely checks in with doctors and specialists to monitor his health, the film wanders aimlessly from enlightening us on the toll of sugar on indigenous populations to obvious “we already know this” marketing ploys that large corporations deal in to shield us from the facts behind what they’re putting out. While the film is watchable at best, it’s a limited effort not due to Gameau semi-cartoony, at times eye-rolling handling of the material, but its lack of not offering up anything new or substantial. By the end, Gameau has predictably returned to his normal weight, and decides not to close his film with any lasting takeaway value. Instead, he dons goofy costumes and parades around a supermarket. Conclusion: Sugar is bad. This much we still know.

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