Documentaries, by definition, are interesting. They are often focused on under-discussed true stories, taking real-life scenarios and shining a light on them so change might occur. They’re often bold and can even bring about movements to actively change how we do things. But not all of them. And what really gets me flustered is to see something marketed as one super-promising thing and to be delivered a disappointing and completely different bill of goods altogether.
Case in point: Bite Size, a new documentary focusing on the horrible plague of childhood obesity in the United States. The promotional material for the doc promises, “an extremely poignant film” and something that “takes a refreshing approach to the subject of childhood obesity… instead of drowning viewers in depressing stories and stats, Bite Size follows four kids who are changing their lives day by day and the families and teachers supporting them.” And while it is true that the story does follow four kids, the idea that this film does not drown viewers in depressing stories is false, as the first hour-plus is downright difficult to watch because of the struggle our four friends endure. And while it’s true that we see these kids at-times changing their lives, when all is said and done, only one of the four children could be considered a success story, one can be considered a slight victory, and the other two remain plateaued or even are worse off than we first met them. To me, that isn’t even in the same neighborhood as change. Explain to me how that is “(like) Rocky, but instead of Sylvester Stallone training to fight, swap in four articulate kids training to grow up healthy.” Because it’s not.
I’m going to highlight the story of Davion, since he is easily the most hopeful of the crew. Already fearing the presence of diabetes, he enters into the world of football and begins working on making his life better. While his eating habits are not shown to change, his effort and avoidance of resignation show the true power of will. With the support of an aggressive coach and an appearance by the NFL’s Donald Driver (also Davion’s favorite player), Davion shows tremendous strides by the end of the film. After a year, (Spoiler Alert) he comes to lose over sixty pounds and appears agile and above all, happy, on the football field. It’s the classic story of physical activity winning the war against lackadaisical behavior. And it’s not all that surprising. But it doesn’t take away from the incredible accomplishments of the young man and the good feeling the viewer feels when Davion gets to strut his stuff.
Oh, there’s also three other stories, too. And none of them are as happy. Not even close.
It’s just very difficult for me to consciously support a film that tells you beforehand that it’s different because it contains “hope,” when really, that’s all you spend the whole film doing. You’re hoping that these kids, either cursed with terrible genes, terrible parents, or terrible luck by being poverty-stricken can conquer these obstacles and come out the other side better and stronger (and not to mention thinner). And as a high school teacher, this documentary hit very close to home. I felt personally and emotionally connected to the counselor at the school of KeAnna (I believe her name to be Ms. Ross, but now several days later, I am not 100% on that). The efforts she goes through to help out a large group of girls (both in actual size and number) is unmatched, and at times her reward is nonexistent. And while the program she begins at the school does bring joy and activity to the girls (they love to dance – she allows them to form a group that dances!) their eating habits at home continue to spiral because of their lack of funds and support from parental figures. The ultimate reward for Ms. Ross? In the “One Year Later” finale, she reveals that she has lost over thirty pounds and is feeling healthier than ever. Now THAT is the stuff that hope comes from, and not from watching KeAnna buy another bag of so-called “hot chips.”
It’s difficult for me to write a negative review about something with intentions this positive. No, the film does not belabor the stats that says that one out of every three children are obese. But it does establish very quickly that these kids are fighting losing battles against ignorant fathers (Moy), inner demons (Emily) and socioeconomic status (both Davion and KeAnna). It’s awful that Moy’s father has to have a near-stroke to stop him from bringing unhealthy food into the house when Moy’s mother is doing her best to serve only healthy food to their overweight son. But in a twisted way, that’s what it takes sometimes to get our attention. And despite his father finally getting more on board, Moy appears to not have changed much after a year, although his willingness to play active video games through his XBox Kinect is supposed to make us feel like he’s on the right path.
As I’ve stated before, I love the idea of highlighting the trouble with childhood obesity in this country. It is something that has to be addressed, although the fact that it’s much more than just the youngins out there that are overweight makes it a bit more difficult to tackle this problem. If you’re looking for information about how to steer yourself into a healthier lifestyle, I would point you toward 2014’s Fed Up, a more in-your-face and potentially shocking documentary on the food industry itself. The makers of Bite Size would probably suggest that Fed Up is one of those films that is dour or depressing because of it’s tendency to discuss stats and showcase our faults. But for me, I’ll take that type of information any day over a false promise of hope and a truly difficult almost-ninety-minutes of watching children struggle.
In the end, it turns out Bite Size‘s title alludes to the amount of hope it delivers, when sadly I know that the exact opposite is what was intended.
Bite Size is now available on iTunes, Google Play, Amazon Instant Video, VUDU, Vimeo On Demand, and directly from bitesizemovie.com