Documentary filmmakers come in two flavors. There are those like Errol Morris (A THIN BLUE LINE) who strictly remain invisible behind the camera and do not inject themselves into the subject matter they are filming. At the other extreme, there are those filmmakers like Michael Moore (BOWLING FOR COLUMBINE, FAHRENHEIT 9/11, SICKO), who appear both behind and in front of the camera and who are very much a part of the film’s subject matter. Filmmaker Morgan Spurlock (SUPER SIZE ME) is of this variety. With that said, you probably cannot enjoy a Morgan Spurlock movie if you do not like Morgan Spurlock because its virtually impossible to tune the filmmaker out of the movie. Spurlock is different from Michael Moore in that his films do not deal with heavy subjects such as the Columbine shootings, 9/11, and the state of the U.S. health care system. Spurlock deals with far lighter, sociological topics like the effects of eating too much McDonald’s, the grooming habits of men (which is the subject of his latest documentary, MANSOME), and the film I’m about to discuss, POM WONDERFUL PRESENTS: THE GREATEST MOVIE EVER SOLD (TGFES).

TGFES is about advertising. Advertising is a multi-billion dollar business and it is arguably the most pervasive (and most might say invasive) force in our lives. It is everywhere. Morgan Spurlock explores how advertising works, including the people and firms that are behind its evil machinations. In an interesting manner of presenting his topic, Spurlock attempts to fund TGFES entirely through product placement by going to advertising agencies and big companies like JetBlue, Pom, Merrell, and Ban deodorant and get them to pay him in order to place their products in his movie. Essentially, Spurlock sells out so that he can fund his documentary and, in the process, illustrate how advertising (specifically product placement) works. Similar to SUPER SIZE ME, Spurlock uses himself to make his point.

Like Michael Moore, much of your enjoyment of TGFES will depend on whether or not you find Morgan Spurlock to be entertaining or, at the very least, not annoying. I for one don’t find him annoying and I sort of like his gee golly approach to his subject matter. I’m not saying he’s stupid or naïve because he certainly isn’t. Spurlock begins the movie with generally the same understanding of the advertising world that most of us have: advertising is constantly around us, which is not a good thing. I also don’t think Spurlock had any illusions about what it would take to have big brands sponsoring his movie and how they would perceive him.

Morgan Spurlock is sort of like Jimmy Stewart in MR. SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON. He enters the big bad world of advertising in order to find brand sponsors to pay for his movie. In exchange, Spurlock would shill their products in his film. He’s very matter-of-fact about his plan when he pitches it to advertising executives. Much of what makes TGFES fun is seeing these executives’ reactions to Spurlock’s idea. What’s ironic about all this is that many of the execs are turned off by the directness of Spurlock’s idea. They almost look repulsed by the prospect of shamelessly featuring their products so blatantly in a movie that is precisely about how a movie can sell out by featuring name brands in the movie. However, that is precisely what every big studio movie or network TV show do.

I appreciated the fact that Spurlock doesn’t shove his views about advertising down our throats. The reason for this is that Spurlock does indeed snag a number of big brands to sponsor the funding of his film and they probably wouldn’t look too kindly on his documentary being about advertising being bad. Nonetheless, Spurlock manages to creatively get his views across in a more subtle manner. For example, he travels to Sao Paolo, Brazil, where all forms of outdoor advertising have been officially banned. Spurlock interviews the city’s residents, who remark how nicer the city looks without advertising and how they’re now able to notice for the first time the true beauty of their city. Spurlock also shows the downside of advertising in the school environment. For example, back in the 90s, American high schools struck a deal to have televisions installed in their classrooms where students could view educational content on Channel One. However, in exchange for this content, the students are forced to watch advertisements as well.

In a yet more subtle manner, TGFES shows the manipulative (in some cases, shockingly manipulative) methods advertising firms employ by simply turning the camera on and showing us how these firms operate on a daily basis. There is no need for Morgan Spurlock to run down all the negatives of advertising because the effects of its methods are readily apparent by simply watching Spurlock meeting with various advertising executives. For the brands who agreed to sponsor Spurlock’s movie, I don’t know if they were too stupid to realize the film intended to paint them in a negative light (clearly they had never seen any of Spurlock’s past films or TV show) or they simply didn’t care and just wanted their product out there.

TGFES has a good momentum going in the first half of the movie where we see Morgan Spurlock going from one advertising firm to another to pitch his movie. The scenes where he meets with the various brands’ executives are also fun to watch as they increasingly impose more and more restrictions on how their products can be portrayed in the movie. Where the movie slows down is in the second half when the film basically turns into one long product placement. Unlike SUPER SIZE ME, where we didn’t know exactly what would happen to Spurlock after all the time he spent eating McDonald’s, we know exactly where this movie is headed. We know that the film will end up being a commercial and so when that time comes, there is no surprise, no suspense, and no sort of satisfaction. Spurlock achieves the very thing he set out to do and so there isn’t any enlightenment or new knowledge to be gained from this experiment.

I overall enjoyed TGFES even though there wasn’t really anything new I learned from it. Like SUPER SIZE ME, the main enjoyment was watching Morgan Spurlock conduct his experiment in his usual good-natured way. One of the best scenes in the movie is when Spurlock interviews a series of film directors on their views of movie product placement. The responses Spurlock gets from the directors shed a lot of light on why some of these directors make such crap movies. For example, when Spurlock asks director Brett Ratner (RUSH HOUR movies, X-MEN: THE LAST STAND, RED DRAGON) how he feels about placing products in his movies, Ratner has absolutely no qualms about it. He simply chalks it up to the nature of the movie business. Ironically, director Peter Berg (BATTLESHIP, HANCOCK) was totally against the idea of product placement because he felt it took away from the task of telling a story…..and yet, his movies are just as bad if not worse than what Brett Ratner puts out.

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