×

Sundance Film Review: ‘Fed Up’

Stephanie Soechtig's documentary effectively gets the message out about America's addiction to unhealthy food.

With:

Bill Clinton, Tom Harkin, Kelly Brownell, Robert Lustig, Michael Pollan. Narrator: Katie Couric.

Accessibility trumps artistry in “Fed Up,” a formulaic and functional documentary that nevertheless proves effective at getting the message out about America’s addiction to unhealthy food. Focusing specifically on childhood obesity, the insidious practices of big food companies and the lack of political will to address the problems, Stephanie Soechtig’s film is the latest in a long line of call-to-action docs following in the footsteps of “An Inconvenient Truth” (and boasts that film’s executive producer, Laurie David to boot). Slick execution and big-name participants, including narrator Katie Couric and an interview with former President Bill Clinton, puts the pic in prime position to become one of the year’s highest-profile commercial docs.

Couric opens the film with alarmist voiceover — turning her years of reporting stories about the obesity epidemic into a mark of authority on the subject — accompanied by clips from the likes of YouTube and “Here Comes Honey Boo Boo.” But the facts quickly pile up: It doesn’t take much convincing to connect the dots between Americans doubling their sugar intake since 1977 and the explosion of Type 2 diabetes in the past 30 years. At the same time, the food and weight-loss industries continue to emphasize the concept of “calorie in calorie out” (you can eat whatever you want, as long as you exercise enough to burn it off) — a fallacy effectively debunked here.

Fed Up” leans heavily on emotional video diaries from a variety of kids struggling with weight issues to give the subject context. They range from 14-year-old Joe, who decides to get lap band surgery, to 12-year-old Maggie, who exercises regularly but can’t lose weight. Meanwhile, 15-year-old Brady struggles to change his eating habits and 16-year-old Nashwah admits she just loves food and sneaks out to buy snacks if her mother doesn’t have them in the house (it can’t help that ever since she was young, teachers would reward good behavior and learning with candy). The prognosis isn’t good: This is the first generation of kids in two centuries expected to live shorter lives than their parents.

So why isn’t anything being done about it? “Fed Up” aims to get viewers fired up enough to start a revolution, pointing to the collusion between government and big food as the biggest hurdle. Soechtig asserts that in the conflict between promoting health and promoting industry, the clear winner is industry. Processed food remains cheap and accessible, school nutrition budgets have been slashed while fast food is served in more than half of U.S. schools, and companies dump so much sugar (in so many different forms) into food labeled non-fat or low fat that “healthier” options are often anything but. Attempts to crack down on practices that are clearly harmful to kids are inevitably met with “nanny state” talking points from right-wing commentators and politicians.

But “Fed Up” acknowledges the problem crosses party lines, targeting Michelle Obama’s “Get Moving” campaign as a massive failure for only addressing half the problem: advocating for exercise while doing next to nothing to encourage healthier eating habits (due to the political risk of taking on deep-pocketed food companies). Couric also presses Clinton, who became an advocate for healthy eating after leaving office, on whether he thinks his administration did enough to address the problem. He admits they might have “missed it.”

Popular on Variety

Sundance Film Review: 'Fed Up'

Reviewed at Sundance Film Festival (competing), Jan. 19, 2014. Running time: 92 MIN.

Production:

An Atlas Films presentation in association with Artemis Rising Foundation and Diamond Docs. Produced by Eve Marson, Sarah Olson, Stephanie Soechtig. Executive producers, Katie Couric, Laurie David, Heather Reisman, Regina K. Scully, Michelle Walrath, Michael Walrath. Co-producers, Sarah Gibson, Kristin Lazure.

Crew:

Directed by Stephanie Soechtig. Written by Mark Monroe, Soechtig. Camera (color, HD), Scott Sinkler; editor, Brian Lazarte, Tina Nguyen, Dan Swietlik; music, Michael Brook; music supervisor, Mike Meeker; supervising sound editor, Eric Lalicata; re-recording mixer, Tom Boykin; graphics and effects, the Glossary, Matthew Freidell, Allison Dunning, Jeremy Dunning; associate producers, Mary Beth Callie, Yoko Okumura, Carly Palmour, Dawn V. Woollen.

With:

Bill Clinton, Tom Harkin, Kelly Brownell, Robert Lustig, Michael Pollan. Narrator: Katie Couric.

More Film

  • on day 3 of the London

    Barbara Broccoli, Richard Curtis Team With Passion Pictures, HTYT Films on Paralympics Documentary

    Oscar-Winning British production company Passion Pictures is teaming up with James Bond producer Barbara Broccoli and filmmaker Richard Curtis on a new feature documentary about the Paralympic Games. The project, currently titled “Harder Than You Think” brings together Passion’s John Battsek with producer Greg Nugent of HTYT Films, with Broccoli and Curtis both serving as [...]

  • Tribeca Film Insitute's PitchNY Program Now

    Tribeca Film Institute's Fourth Annual PitchNY Program Kicks Off (EXCLUSIVE)

    College students and recent alumni in New York can apply to Tribeca Film Institute’s 4th annual PitchNY program, an effort to help young, diverse directors, producers and writers fine-tune their pitching skills, as well as to connect them with entertainment industry professionals who will serve as mentors. On Thursday, Tribeca Film Institute announced that applications [...]

  • La-camarista

    ‘The Chambermaid’ Cleans Up in the U.S.

    SANTIAGO, Chile — Call it the “Roma” effect but Mexican newcomer Lila Aviles’ engaging portrait of a hotel servant, “The Chambermaid” (“La Camarista”) has found outstanding reception in the U.S. and in multiple territories, giving hope to other arthouse films from Latin America and elsewhere that seek distribution in “fortress America.” “‘Roma’ was a beautiful, brawny and [...]

  • Beograd 20.03.2012 Milutin Petrovic, reditelj, scenarista,

    Lost Script by ABC Studios Editor Turned Into Movie and Series 'Bad Blood'

    An ambitious new Serbian feature film and 10-part television series set in the Ottoman Empire of the 19th century has emerged from a long lost script by a former editor at ABC Studios in New York City. Belgrade-based This and That Productions is producing “Bad Blood,” based on the works of renowned Serbian writer Borisav [...]

  • Gael Garcia Bernal on the Power,

    Gael Garcia Bernal on the Power, Responsibility of Cinema to ‘Provoke’

    Gael García Bernal said acting for the likes of Oscar winners Alejandro González Iñárritu and Alfonso Cuarón helped groom him for the director’s chair and praised cinema as “the only medium” that allows artists to “explore the gray areas” in unparalleled ways. “The world is so full of certainties now, and cinema is the one that [...]

  • Gareth Jones

    Samuel Goldwyn Films Takes North American Rights to Berlin Competition Title 'Mr Jones'

    Samuel Goldwyn Films has taken North American rights on Agnieska Holland’s “Mr. Jones,” it announced Thursday. The period thriller debuted in competition at the Berlin Film Festival in February. Set on the eve of the Second World War, “Mr. Jones” stars James Norton as the eponymous character, an ambitious young journalist who travels to Moscow [...]

  • Live Action Mulan

    China Uses Disney's 'Mulan' to Attack Hong Kong Protests

    Although Twitter and Facebook have taken steps to stop what they say is a Chinese state-backed misinformation campaign about the anti-government protests in Hong Kong, similar content from suspicious accounts continues to proliferate widely, some of it co-opting Disney‘s new “Mulan“ to try to discredit the demonstrators. At the same time, China‘s government-controlled media are [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content