If you are arriving late to the party, let me fill you in: Sugar is bad. The public seems to just be coming around to this truth, and although it’s going to take a whole heck of a lot to break our ingrained concepts of health and nutrition that has been spoon-fed to us for decades, documentaries like the recent Fed Up and now That Sugar Film (opening today and available on VOD) are definitely helping to get the message out. Ironically, That Sugar Film comes across as an adrenaline-filled buzz-high, in a genre not quite associated with usually being energy-infused.
On its surface – and deservedly so – That Sugar Film will undoubtedly be compared to Morgan Spurlock’s Super Size Me, and at first, seems like a cheap rip-off. Spurlock’s doc centered around his “McDonald’s-only” diet, and the adverse affects that his fast food diet had on his health. In That Sugar Film, writer/director Damon Gameau puts himself on a diet where he makes sure he consumes at least 40 teaspoons of sugar per day. In case you’re wondering, the recommended daily dose is 9 teaspoons for men, 6 for women, per day, yet Gameau’s 40 teaspoons isn’t an arbitrary number: According to this doc, it’s the amount the average American eats on a daily basis. His diet doesn’t include sweets by the way, only sugars found in “normal” grocery store or store-bought items where sugar is just a part of the package.
Gameau is an eccentric goofball, whose personality bleeds through his hyper-active documentary, to mixed results. He crafts an educational and entertaining argument against sugar, one that doesn’t feel like your standard documentary “talking head” film. He’s an Australian living with his girlfriend, and prior to his “experimental,” doctor-supervised diet, he actually lives a sugar-free lifestyle. But he takes several chances (some work more than others) and through the use of celebrity cameos, green-screen effects and just general silliness, he serves up doses of information in slick little pills that, unlike sugar, are easily digestible.
It’s a fairly predictable premise: Nobody watching will expect to see Gameau’s health improve after his self-imposed diet. But through his shenanigans, we learn about how prevalent sugar has become, and just how much sugar is in foods that we would normally think of as “healthy.” It also seems not only like a political problem (with powerful sugar lobbies preventing the message of reaching the people, much like the tobacco industry decades ago), but a societal problem. Take juicing, for example, which most associate with healthy living. He suggests that man was never meant to ingest four or five apples – sans fiber – in one sitting. It defies nature. Nobody seems to realize the amount of sugar contained in one glass of apple “juiced.” Most of us wouldn’t eat four to five apples in one sitting.
Sugar’s addictive nature – way more addictive than even cocaine by the way – is discussed at length, as is sugar’s other affects, such as mood-swings and bi-polar-like symptoms. Also how fructose – the more dangerous component of sugar – seems to go straight to the gut. Gameau gains about 15 pounds after two months on the diet, eating the same exact caloric intake as he did pre-diet. His thesis is that it is not how many calories you have, it’s what kind of foods you are eating.
His strange sense of humor falls flat here and there, but Gameau is so approachable and charismatic, that we don’t even mind that he ends the film with a strange, over-the-top music video of himself as sugar-incarnate. It’s clear to me that he might have been on a sugar-high (or something else) when cutting this film together. He turns the corner though and goes from frivolous to provocative when he encounters head-on a “non-believer” of the anti-sugar campaign, who just so happens to be financially backed by Coca-Cola.
That Sugar Film feels a bit stale in that it covers a lot of the same ground that the better, more studious Fed Up did just a year ago, but his enthusiastic take on the subject – like a spoonful of sugar – definitely helps the medicine go down a bit smoother. His message may be one of the most important ones that we face as a society, one that not too many are taking seriously, yet. Hopefully, movie-goers across the country will ponder making some much-needed changes for the betterment of our collective health, all the while sipping on their super-sized sodas and cramming sugary sweets into their over-stuffed pie-holes this weekend.
Run Time: 1 hour, 35 minutes, Not Rated
Written & Directed by Damon Gameau (feature-length directorial debut)
Opens locally on Friday, July 31, 2015 (check for show times).