Continuing the bizarre tradition of superhero-like white foreigners with commanding accents who come to America to revolutionize the way we eat, Australian filmmaker Joe Cross’s weapon of choice is a juicer. This former stock broker with narcissistic guru fantasies masquerading as selfless altruism spends the bulk of Fat, Sick & Nearly Dead driving around the country in his convertible Mercedes trying to convince what we have come to call “real Americans” to ditch the cheeseburger and go on a juice fast for a few days, or months.
Cross’s wealth (“At age 23 I was making a truck load of money”) enabled him to live an excessive lifestyle with fast cars, big boats, big nights out, and lots of food. Due to his unhealthy habits, he developed urticaria, a kind of chronic rash that makes a handshake feel like a bite of 20 thousand mosquitoes and requires him to take dozens of pills every day. In going on a 60-day fast during which he only consumed fruits and vegetables turned into juice, he hoped to lose his 100 extra pounds and help people along the way.
There are some rather unwittingly perverse moments as low-income African Americans in front of an off-the-freeway McDonald’s are asked to list their eating habits (hot dogs, pork chops, and Pepsi) by this over-cheerful white man from Sydney whose response is laughter (“You watch TV when you eat too?”). Fat, Sick & Nearly Dead is really an encounter with the kind of American ignorance (“I’m here for a few good years, I’m gonna eat what I want” from a previous heart-surgery patient at an Oklahoma diner) that can set New Yorkers into orgasmic bouts of schadenfreude. This is an America that hopes “God got ribs in heaven,” full of gun store-owning retirees who cook dinner at home once or twice a month and for whom having diabetes is as ordinary as having HPV.
The film’s eating-well message is also framed as a better way to serve the lovely project of reproductionist heterosexuality. The prospect of seeing your kids grow up and being able to “pass on your knowledge to them” that juicing might make possible is contrasted to Cross’s out-of-control bachelorhood that only brought him nasty skin rashes and an unattractive beer gut that will certainly hinder him from making those babies. This investment in a normalizing future for the sake of the offspring and a stably heterosexual life is present all over the film, as several people claim to want to lose the weight because of their children; the closing credits even celebrate the 202-pound weight loss of a morbidly obese truck driver that Cross helps, capped with the announcement that “Phil was recently married and couldn’t be happier.”
Fat, Sick & Nearly Dead does have its educational merits, as well as some cute animation sections that dot the narrative. Yet it also sells a dangerous philosophy that preaches an understanding of the human body as a machine that needs better external fuel, with no attention to the human psyche as the very individualized fuel of the relationship between humans and food.