Another year, another dietary fad and another documentary espousing its virtues. Fat Sick and Nearly Dead follows former big city bachelor Joe Cross who pushes aside the excessive nature of his rich lifestyle in Australia in favour of a juicing diet. A victim of years of fine dining and fine wining in his playboy lifestyle, he’s now on a mission to educate Americans about the dangers of eating unhealthily.
Along the way he meets obese truck driver Phil Staples, who converts to the juice-fast way and sets about losing hundreds of pounds which we are told effectively ‘saves his life.’ This proves the remarkable and somewhat inspiring portion of the film, although the merits of juice-fast are unproven and the documentary does drift into advertising territory. But the real problem comes in the form of the documentary film-maker himself.
Charging around the States like some Mercedes-driving Jesus of food, Cross’ egotistical nature makes way for an even more impressive and repugnant Guru complex. Like a shining light of white, imperialist heterosexuality he points at overweight Afro-Americans and laughs as they explain their lifestyle choices. The film occasionally stops to push the message that people can do what they want as long as they’re informed, but then gets straight back to pointing and laughing at people who don’t ‘juice’ making sure to highlight that if you’re fat, you won’t find an opposite sex life partner, which it also suggests is the only important thing in life.
Cross has obviously never watched any documentaries before and lacks any understanding of shot-choice or co-ordination. This lack of preparation and execution goes in hand with the arrogance of pushing an untested diet onto a potentially gullible audience. It’s all well and good saying “always consult your Doctor” once or twice, but if you then spend the other 90 minutes talking about the ‘miracle of juicing’ and showing case studies only where results have been extremely positive, it gives an incredibly uneven narrative.
The film has been dubbed ‘inspirational’ and ‘moving’ but what they actually mean is it allows viewers to point and laugh at overweight people and get involved in a nice bit of schadenfreude, while stocking up on juicers ready for the inevitable sales spike. As an advert Fat Sick and Nearly Dead is frankly genius, as documentary film-making it’s a huge disappointment.