It’s been over ten years since Morgan Spurlock’s eye-opening sensational documentary Super Size Me showed people the evils of dining on a diet consisting of McDonald’s food and nothing else. That’s just enough time for a new generation of activists to latch onto That Sugar Film, a movie in which Australian actor Damon Gameau (“Raw”) does basically the same thing.
Instead of surviving on a diet of McDonald’s alone, Gameau decides to forgo his sugar-free lifestyle and partake in the sticky sweet substance. The rules are simple; Gameau challenges himself to take in 40 teaspoons of sugar a day without eating junk foods for two months, all while continuing to adhere to his daily exercise routine. His approach differs from Spurlock’s in that Gameau consumes foods that are perceived to be healthy, things like fruits and yogurts and such, but are high in sugar. The effect on his body is predictably the same, however: massively unhealthy.
That Sugar Film strikes a keen balance between being educational and entertaining. Damon Gameau is a charming and charismatic host, so watching his progress throughout the experiment is enjoyable; he attacks his quest with humor and sarcasm, even as he is putting his body through hell. Of course, he utilizes a full medical team during his crusade, but he gives them cute little superhero names like “Professor Blood” (aka Professor Ken Sikaris) and “Check-Upz” (aka Dr. Debbie Herbst). The film is peppered with little sketches that feature big-name stars like Hugh Jackman (Real Steel, The Wolverine), who gives a brief history of sugar by drawing pictures in it, and Brenton Thwaites (Oculus, The Signal), who swallows a mini-Gameau to show what happens to sugar once it enters the body. Even the talking head scientists are fun, appearing on slick animated product labels and posters as they drop some medical or nutritional knowledge on the unsuspecting viewer.
Damon Gameau does a few other things over the course of That Sugar Film in order to get it up to its 90 minute running time. He explores an Aboriginal settlement in South Australia where Coca-Cola is the preferred drink of the people to see how the increased sugar intake affects the locals. He also visits a mobile dentist in Kentucky where he meets a boy who suffers from ‘Mountain Dew Mouth,’ which is a nice way of saying that all of his teeth have rotted out of his head from drinking a twelve pack of the sugary soft drink every day. These segments are unbelievable, and hard to watch at times, but they provide a little seriousness to an otherwise lighthearted film about a grave subject.
In the end, what happens to Damon Gameau in That Sugar Film is exactly what the audience expects to happen to him, and exactly what happened to Morgan Spurlock in Super Size Me; he gains a bunch of weight, feels like crud, and finds himself physically and emotionally addicted to sugar. Is That Sugar Film a rip-off of Super Size Me? Yes and no. It follows the same basic premise, but people expect McDonalds’ food to be junk; they don’t expect the naturally occurring sugars in foods that they believe are healthy to be bad for them. That Sugar Film is both funny and informative, shedding light on a problem that normally lurks in the shadows.