That Sugar Film – Damon Gameau goes Spurlock on sugar. (Film Review)
That Sugar Film is the latest Super Size Me style offering, this time from Australian actor Damon Gameau. It’s a documentary similarly styled to the 2004 Morgan Spurlock film that attempts to do to sugar what Spurlock did to McDonald’s, in that an exposure of the ill effects of heavy consumption will horrify viewers enough to at least consider limiting their sugar intake. Gameau gave up sugar for an all natural diet and lifestyle (it appears from the film) several years ago, and has now become a zealot. Similar to Super Size Me, a supportive vegan girlfriend hovers around the background embodying the natural maternal wisdom of the bake-perfect feminine divine. It was easy to over look this reaffirmation of domestic bliss due to the fulfillment in assigned roles in Super Size Me because the concept was novel, but in That Sugar Film Gameau waves his fabulous lifestyle in front of the camera with so much pretension and cheery ego that it begins to grate that his flawless nymph of a wife, who taught him all he knows, hovers majestically in the background like a dryad while he turns her knowledge into his personal glory.
And that’s not the only problem.
I’ve already stated we are heavily in Spurlock territory here, however That Sugar Film doesn’t begin with the same strong premise of the 2004 original, which effectively answered a law suit brought against McDonald’s claiming they intend to cause harm by selling and promoting substandard foods, willfully causing ill-health in Americans. Gameau doesn’t have any reason to question our sugar intake, other than his opinions and that of his partner and his rather peculiar insistence that because she is pregnant he suddenly feels as though he wants to save all children from the sugar hell his healthy offspring will avoid. Unfortunately this shaky premise ensures that Gameau’s film will instantly divide audiences into two camps, the already established pro and anti sugar camps because he either preaches to the converted or turns sugar devotees into staunch defenders of their position. Gameau supports his arguments with the experimental diet that he takes for two months (against Spurlocks one) that consists of what Australian’s consider to be healthy foods.
The experiment works well, as is to be expected, and Gameau successfully proves you gain weight on a low-fat diet because of hidden sugar consumption. His is a well-polished vehicle, using tropes and clichés of the documentary in a meta way by placing the talking heads on the packs of cereal boxes, juice boxes or yogurt containers. He creates strong visuals, such as adding the tablespoons of sugar in “Chicken Tonight” directly to a chicken leg he then stomach-churningly consumes along side cheeky vignettes by celebrities such as Hugh Jackman, Stephen Fry and Brenton Thwaits who give animated facts collected in support of Gameau’s argument. The glitz and silliness reach a crescendo with dressing his monitoring doctors up as super heroes, but That Sugar Film is aimed at children as much as adults (even more possibly) so all this yo’-so-craaaazzzy attitude will play well to younger audiences, who could definitely use a good dose of this film.
However, it remains problematical that Gameau has decided that Australian’s who eat an average diet (which contains 40 teaspoons of sugar per day) either don’t know the sugar is there, or don’t know it’s bad for them. Again, this differentiates the film from the Spurlock vehicle which made no assumptions about its audience. It went up against McDonald’s, a faceless corporation, never alienating those who ate McDonald’s two weeks ago, yesterday or even just before the film – at least not over the film’s premise. By placing the burden of responsibility and change on his audience, and assuming they are ignorant, Gameau creates antagonism which he unfortunately posits against images of his very healthy lifestyle, his fabulously beautiful actress girlfriend, and his seen-it-done-before experiment. It’s particularly frustrating, because a little research into a book such as Sugar Blues by William Duffy, would create the link between political aid to sugar cane farmers and our consumption of sugar that explains why it is in everything. That Sugar Film needed to choose its audience better – kids or adults – instead of straddling both camps, thereby watering down its message.
All this is a real shame, because I happen to be one of the people who agrees with his basic premise, that pretty much everything in the supermarket outside of the vegetable section and the meat section is seriously detrimental to your health, though I would be shocked to find most people don’t already know that. This poses the question Gameau never asks – if we know it is bad for us, why do we eat it? He mentions things like habit and addiction, but for the most part he doesn’t tackle anything deeper than this, tripping lightly over issues of consumerism and large corporations who make a lot of money from sugar sales. He knows to look at Coke, but as I previously mentioned, he never looks into farming and manufacturing of fructose and what it’s true purpose in all our food is. Sugar as a preservative is never mentioned, only sugar as addictive, which has been done before, even in the famous Spurlock film itself.
That Sugar Film has a heart, but to an adult it appears too much like Damon Gameau’s reach for fame and glory. Pitched at children, which I noticed it does in its release schedule, you have a valuable tool that can make a real difference in a child’s life. I suspect at the end of the day that is what Gameau want’s more than anything else, and that makes the films faults easy to forgive.