Film Review: Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead (2010)

Joe Cross follows in the footsteps of Morgan Spurlock by taking on an incredible dietary challenge for a documentary. He will only consume juice from raw vegetables and fruit for sixty days. Joe believes he needs to make a change in his life. He has a rare skin disorder that causes his body to react as if he's being attacked by mosquitoes from the slightest touch, he's significantly overweight, and he's fed up. Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead is half of an interesting film. Joe Cross is a very charismatic figure. Much of the running time of the film is him interacting with random people in America about their diets. He talks to fat people and thin people of all ages asking about their lifestyle choices. Cross has this effortless aura about him that gets people to open up about the darkest culinary secrets. He'll laugh with them when they admit they only eat fast food or commiserate when they discuss their serious medical problems. This part of Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead could have made a great documentary.

That is not Joe Cross' agenda. Cross wants everyone to try juice fasting for at least 10 days. He travels across America, handing out free-samples and juicing through some kind of power hook-up in the back of his rental car. He has one nutritionist pop up throughout the first half of the film explaining the various nutritional benefits of raw fruits and vegetables. She does not, however, say people should consider substituting solid meals for an all juice diet.

This is part of my problem with Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead. Joe Cross does not claim to have any medical authority. His doctor told him he needed to lose weight, so he somehow got the idea to try a long-term juice fast. His doctor only agreed to this plan if he went for biweekly check-ups to make sure he wasn't hurting himself. But I don't know if the other people Cross pitched this juice fast to knew to get their doctor's permission.

If Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead was a forty-five minute documentary short, it might be a great character study; it's not. It's a ninety minute feature that splits its focus in half. The first half follows Joe Cross on his juice fast scheme as he educates about his own condition and the benefits of fresh fruits and vegetables. The second half follows a truck driver who Joe randomly meets at a rest stop. This man is morbidly obese and happens to have the same skin condition as Cross. He agrees to follow the juice fast.

The problem with this structure is that the second half of the film plays as a particularly schmaltzy episode of The Biggest Loser. The trucker gets weighed and measured. He's told the risks of his lifetime of bad eating habits. Then he's put on a nebulous and barely explained diet program that miraculously takes a ton of weight off his body in a very quick period of time. It's just that after experiencing forty-five minutes of charming Joe, this guy comes across as very low-key and a little boring.

This is the risk with a documentary pushing an agenda like this. People wind up judging the civilians in the film as almost celebrity-figures. If they're actually in need of help, it can come across as exploitative or manipulative to use them in a film. If they seem fake (like the woman who agrees to a ten day juice fast), they look like the paid actors on an infomercial. The credibility of a documentary depends on the credibility of the speakers. If civilians come across like pawns, the whole film is weakened.

Rating: 3/10

Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead is available to stream on Netflix Instant. Will you watch it?

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