Fed Up (2014) / Documentary

MPAA Rated: PG for thematic elements including smoking images, and brief mild language
Running Time: 92 min.

Cast: Katie Couric (narrator), Bill Clinton
Director: Stephanie Soechtig
Screenplay: Mark Monroe, Stephanie Soechtig

Review published May 10, 2014

Stephanie Soechtig's Fed Up is a bit like eating your veggies; it's not exciting or particularly packed with flavor, but it is beneficial for you to consume.  While the information within the film itself is undoubtedly important, I'm not really here to grade it on its pertinence so much as how well it delivers its message in an informative and entertaining way.  While, as a film, it certainly could use much more pizzazz and vision, ultimately it does get across its message that our nation's health, and specifically our childrens' problem with obesity, should be one of our utmost concerns.  Since the powerful food lobbies have infiltrated congress and laid claim to the "nutrition" in most of our nation's schools, it's up to us to vocalize and mobilize to fight them in greater numbers to stem the tide of non-foods that our children are marketed directly to that contain little nutritional value, and a whole heaping helping of things that are unhealthy, including, most notably, lots of added sugar.

Soechtig (Tapped), with assistance from narrator and executive producer Katie Couric ("Katie", "Good Morning America"), takes a very long time for her film to get to the point, and though it ends up being worth the wait for viewers unaware of the problem, it makes for a frustrating watch to see points get dragged out.  The bottom line of the film is this: diet & exercise aren't the only things that matter when it comes to maintaining a healthy weight -- the content of the food we eat is what's most vital.  A calorie isn't just a calorie, according to Dr. Robert Lustig, UCSF professor of clinical pediatrics.  160 calories in almonds is handled by the body in a far more efficient manner due to its fiber content (which delays absorption) than 160 calories in a soda, which is purely "sugar calories" that the body nearly instantly stores as fat.  And sugar is addictive -- more so than cocaine, according to one popular study; we immediately want more foods containing it, even if we aren't necessarily hungry.

About half of the somewhat stretched-out film (this film could have easily been an hour-long expose for TV with commercials and not lost any content) deals with the true-life testimonials of obese children who have tried and failed miserably to lose weight despite efforts to eat better and exercise regularly.  Soechtig never comments directly, but one can easily see, when juxtaposed with the educational information delivered by the nutritionists, that the so-called diet foods that these kids, and many of us in the audience, regularly consume are actually making the problem worse.  Low-fat and non-fat foods substitute the missing fat with lots of sugar in order to deliver taste, which, of course, is stored as fat when it is absorbed in the body.  Meanwhile, the kids are bombarded by fast food choices at school, as pizza, cookies, cakes, burgers, fries, puddings, juices and soda are among the food options, without a single added veggie on their plate.  It's literally a recipe for weight gain and poor health.

The testimonials add emotional content to the film, but in the end, their point is not driven home with enough force to make much of a dent.  One of the kids has success losing weight by sticking to "real food" cooked at home in his diet, but in an epilogue, we're told he gains it all back without telling us why.  Did he go back to his old eating habits?  One assumes, but it would be nice to know for the purpose of the overall point of the entire film.  Another very obese child undergoes bariatric surgery and does lose a significant amount of weight, but little of his story has to do with nutritional information we can use, other than to point out the hypocrisy that we, as taxpayers, are willing to expend tens of thousands of dollars in order to have a kid undergo surgery to stay alive rather than spend money on school lunch programs that promote healthier food choices. 

The final moments of this otherwise middle-of-the-road documentary fosters an activist approach to nutrition in which we should not only educate ourselves by visiting the film's website, but also contact our political representatives to put pressure on them the other way, away from the billion dollar food industry lobby which regularly funnels money into the political system, and into advertising their unhealthy wares to us at an early age.  While the message is delivered, it never quite grabs a hold the way it could, and seems soft in its indictment of the food industry compared to, say, the in-your-face approaches of other documentarians like Michael Moore and Morgan Spurlock. 

I'm not suggesting Fed Up should have taken a bombastic approach, but it should really go for the knockout when it has the chance, rather than pull punches when dealing with out-of-control food corporations who are as cutthroat as you can get on their side.  They will continue to feed poison to your kids for every dollar than ever let you put a restriction on where and when their foods can be sold or advertised, so they have absolutely no qualms; they will lie to your fice if it means they lose their bottom line profits.  The poster for Fed Up has the tagline, "Congress says pizza is a vegetable", just above a picture of (presumably) M&M's with the letters that read "F U" on it; this should have been the incendiary "mad as hell" tone of the film in the end, if not completely from the get-go.

You start a revolution by putting fire in the bellies of those who are tired of stuffing them with sugary foods; it's far better to go to battle with people who are there to fight tooth and nail with you than with someone who thinks the battle for ideas are best handled with a mild, common sense approach.  Fed Up is important information that would have been better served building on the tone of its title to implore us to really hit the food and beverage corporations where they hurt. While the information presented is good for making decisions for ourselves and our families around the dinner table, Fed Up should have been less familiar and friendly and more feisty and "fired up" for us to take up arms for its uphill fight.

Qwipster's rating:

2014 Vince Leo