Film Review – That Sugar Film
That Sugar Film
Sugar addiction is one of the worst problems in this and many other countries so Australian director and actor Damon Gameau decided to do an experiment and eat 40 grams of sugar a day coming from what is perceived to be healthy foods like yogurt, cereal and juice. He documented the results in That Sugar Movie. If this sounds like Morgan Spurlock‘s Super Size Me, yes, there is a lot of overlap. Like Spurlock, Gameau starts to feel worse and gain weight after being on a diet of sugar, and his liver is being harmed by what he is doing to himself, but the difference is in how Gameau is eating his poison.
Gameau goes into detail about how and why we eat sugar without realizing it. One of the best examples is when we eat fruit as smoothies and juices we take out the fiber that would make us full after eating two pieces of fruit, and instead concentrate on the sugar that doesn’t satisfy us. He also creates visuals literally showing how many teaspoons of sugar are in something that is prepackaged to look like it isn’t as bad for us. By looking at sugar-based items we come to desire them based on our mind’s own instincts that tell us sweet things are something we need. All of these visuals are helpful in keeping what he is getting across more clear for us.
Now, as with any science-based documentary, we have the obligatory talking heads: experts telling us how bad something is. Here the talking heads are put to creative use by being placed into animation of food boxes with faces giving it a visual flourish that keeps us more intrigued. Gameau is our main narrator throughout and his experience as an actor helps him come across as a more interesting personality as he gets into different ways sugar hurts us and how it came to be that we have so much sugar around us. Then for an added bit of directorial intrigue we have Hugh Jackman and Stephen Fry giving us quick lessons about the history and types of sugar.
Despite these visual flourishes, it is still a film preaching about the evils of sugar and that point can become forced at times, feeling like it has been made and the film is overdoing its own message. This is changed up by presenting different effects of sugar like showing how the Aborigine way of life has been destroyed and how a Kentucky teen’s teeth look after a life of consuming Mountain Dew. These changes have a mixed effect, giving us new examples but also making the film seem like it has lost focus on its subject matter. First there are moments seeing the effects of sugar on Gameau, then we move on to talking to different experts including those funded by the sugar industry, then cutting to visuals inside our bodies showing our reaction to sugar, then on to other people affected by sugar. We touch on so many different examples that lead to the same message that sugar is bad so that it feels like we have overdosed and it deadens the impact.
Yet overall there was enough there to keep me engaged. It helps that Gameau is trying to create a positive message overall and show that sugar is an addiction but one that can be beat, showing parts of his own journey getting off of sugar and how much better he feels, and showing the physical evidence of that result. He also consistently tries to make the information feel palpable so that we do not become too overwhelmed with what kind of behemoth the sugar problem is. Then the film concludes with one of the most bizarre endings to a documentary I have ever seen.
Damon Gameau is obviously passionate about the problems sugar is causing, and has tried very hard to create a way to make hearing that message feel like we are not being talked down to. At times he gets a little redundant, but his message did keep me from drinking a soda I had on hand while watching the movie, and made me think about my own sugar addiction. It may just be in the short term but for now the film has me thinking about my own life, a rare feat for any documentary.