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Fed Up Reviews

A widespread myth in American society suggests that people will be fine if they go with the flow, adopt mainstream tastes and opinions, and avoid questioning the precepts doled out by the media. This sort of reactionary myopia can be ignorant and dangerous, and can lead to the blind acceptance of some pretty terrible "mainstream" things, from air pollution to economic inequality to an attitude that puts the Second Amendment ahead of human lives.†Stephanie Soechtig's documentary Fed Up is an activist picture in the sense that it defeats preconceptions -- it takes an insidious issue, one that most Americans have unwittingly bought into, and cuts through delusions to provide an unflinching look at a silent tragedy: the obesity epidemic in Middle America. In the process, the movie leads the audience on a kind of systematic investigation of this†matter, addressing a litany of tangential questions and problems related to obesity.   The film begins by using a battery of shock tactics to seize us and wake us up to the reality of the central issue. Soechtig enlists techniques both emotional -- such as the heartbreaking testimonies of heavyset children mocked about their large bodies -- and visual/textural, as when she repeatedly cuts to close-ups of greasy, fatty victuals served by fast-food establishments. Soechtig also draws on satirical humor -- she takes potshots of the type seen on The Daily Show, The Colbert Report, and other programs, as in one outrageously funny bit in which a McDonald's representative asserts that Ronald McDonald "inspires by magic and fun" and isn't used to sell products, as well as another hilarious interview where a physicians' rep in league with Coca-Cola takes a long, awkward pause while trying to defend that partnership. We laugh even as we're stung by the sobering truth.   All of these devices are effective, yet somewhat predictable and familiar; the documentary grows considerably more interesting and entertaining, though, when it begins to discuss sleazy conspiracies behind the obesity plague. It details how corporations such as KFC and Pizza Hut have signed contractual agreements to serve junk food to students in 80 percent of elementary- and middle-school cafeterias nationwide; it also looks at the food lobbyists and manufacturers who have basically bribed the U.S. government into suppressing nutrition reports by the World Health Organization, and have undercut First Lady Michelle Obama's Let's Move! campaign with P.R. sleight of hand.   It's a safe bet that even the Americans who know about the health risks of quick-service food aren't nearly as hip to this multilayered deception at the governmental level, making this picture a valuable informative tool. If you aren't totally jaded over political and bureaucratic corruption, you'll likely feel ashamed and sickened by many of the corporate schemes on display here -- and it is no small surprise that, according to the epilogue, representatives of countless junk-food manufacturers refused to be interviewed by Soechtig and her team for this film. They might as well have been burying their heads in the sand; their absence is conspicuous even before that postscript appears, and it makes them look culpable and shameful.   Soechtig eventually begins to speculate on the potential for real, tangible change in this health crisis, and here, unfortunately, the documentary falters a bit. While her decision to compare the obesity crisis of the early 21st century to the smoking crisis of the early í70s (and to propose similar solutions, such as cancer warnings on soda cans) might at first seem brilliant, as you reflect on it you start to recognize all kinds of improbabilities. For one thing, the food-lobbying groups hold far more fiscal sway than the tobacco industry ever did, and the obesity crisis is a far more daunting issue. Such change will require more than a little bureaucratic resolve; it would necessitate an almost complete systemic overhaul, and at the risk of sounding cynical, that seems improbable. It is, however, possible that a high-ranking government official or officials could see this picture and begin to effectuate slightly less radical changes -- that has happened in the past with some social-activist documentaries, and that is one hope that we carry away from the movie.   Soechtig deserves kudos for ending the film with an array of practical suggestions for how viewers can promote dietary change in their daily lives, although in all fairness, her tips often seem a shade too pat and cloying. For instance, it clearly isn't adequate for one to merely eat whole foods and stay away from processed items, as she suggests; saturated fats and red meat should be reduced or avoided as well, but Soechtig never broaches that area of discussion.   These reservations aside, though, this is still a generally well-constructed and intelligent film. It may be slick, formulaic, and stylistically conventional, but it makes many insightful points about one of the key health calamities now taking its toll on our country, and it consistently strikes the right emotional chords. On that basis, the picture is well worth seeing.