Stephanie Soechtig’s Fed Up is an activist documentary and nothing more — and this carries all the flaws and pitfalls one should expect from such a film. It’s preachy and overstuffed with numbers and statistics, and, with its litany of talking heads, doesn’t offer anything purely entertaining. But it’s often convincing, which, for a film like this, is its sole concern, and therefore, theoretically it’s successful. Except it’s not, because those faults, like its dense nature and serious tone, keep Fed Up from being engaging on most levels. It’s intelligent and well-intentioned, but fatally stuffy.
Fed Up’s focus is on the American obesity epidemic, while the film’s purpose is to slowly unravel the multitude of causes and effects related to it. Soechtig tracks the problem to the focus on low and non-fat foods, where food manufacturers simply substituted fat for sugar, thus hooking generations of Americans on cheap, unhealthy food. The film slowly unravels this notion to conspiratorial levels, from government collusion with soft drink and processed food manufacturers, to school systems that allow these companies to entrench themselves in their cafeterias. Soechtig’s film has much data, shown through various animated numbers that pop up on the screen, and interviews with numerous experts. And while the research has obviously been done, it’s overwhelming. I understand that that’s kind of the idea – to present your argument in such monolithic terms as to not be ignored, but Fed Up is so informational that it loses its power. Narrated by Katie Couric, the movie has the feel and pacing of of a newscast, a problem with a documentary of this length. There’s a meandering tendency to Fed Up and the feeling that it needs to be less concerned with reaching that magic 90-minute runtime and more focused on concision.
The film attempts to break this up with more personal stories from families struggling with obesity, mainly focusing on the children who are affected. That’s fine, except Soechtig mostly shows these kids talking to the audience, giving scripted diatribes on the evils of the food industry, all shot through grainy webcams. I’m not sure, thematically, what this is supposed to accomplish. It’s a conceit that just pops in and out of the movie, but it’s distracting and silly. That’s too bad. When Fed Up is giving alternative solutions and practical advice to the obesity epidemic, it’s compelling and genuinely informative. Unfortunately, the film itself simply cannot get out of its own way. Rated PG for thematic elements including smoking images, and brief mild language.