Review: 'America the Beautiful 2' is something to chew on

"The Thin Commandments" is Darryl Roberts' follow-up to his first "America the Beautiful" documentary.

Story highlights

  • Darryl Roberts' documentary follows his struggle to get healthy
  • Roberts highlights the misuse of the Body Mass Index (BMI)
  • "America the Beautiful 2" isn't slick or polished but Roberts is very relatable
A broadside against the dieting industry, Darryl Roberts' documentary isn't always pretty but it provides plenty of food for thought.
Roberts cites Michael Moore as an example of a smart, successful fatty, and his filmmaking is in the same sometimes scattershot, first-person style. He's not shy about bringing his sister's struggles with in-vitro fertilization into the story, or filming his own medical appointments. Informed that at 270 pounds he's obese, with worryingly high blood pressure and an arrhythmic heartbeat, Roberts looks for a weight loss program that works for him.
At the same time, he keeps an eye on the bigger picture. The statistics fly thick and fast:
100 million Americans are obese.
Four out of five women are dissatisfied with the way they look.
On any given day almost 50% of women are on a diet
So are 25% of men.
It all adds up to great news for a diet industry worth $50 billion a year. Not so great for the rest of us, because 95% of diets fail.
This is obviously not a healthy situation, but Roberts has an interesting spin on some of these numbers. He makes a compelling case that the so-called obesity epidemic has been grossly inflated by the misapplication of the Body Mass Index (BMI), a one-size-fits-all formula which categorized 29 million previously healthy Americans as overweight or obese when the recommendations were changed in 1998.
He shows that several members of the National Institutes for Health panel that approved the change are paid consultants to Weight Watchers, which benefited from the tighter guidelines.
And he points out that according to the current BMI recommendations, LeBron James, Tom Cruise, Will Smith, Christian Bale and Arnold Schwarzenegger are all either overweight or obese.
Rather than labeling citizens with a false standard, Roberts suggests government might have a bigger impact on the nation's weight-gain by cutting the corn subsidies that have injected the addictive and calorific high fructose corn syrup into so many of our food staples. He makes that point to Secretary of Health Kathleen Sibelius, and which she ducks at such length, he cheekily repeats the question in caption form under her rambling non-response. (The interview is shut down shortly afterward.)
Meanwhile, as he fails at one diet after another, Roberts meets an anorexic thrown out of rehab by her insurance company, a realtor addicted to working out, and a group of high school boys recovering from eating disorders. He begins to wonder if our cultural prejudice against fat is doing more harm than good.
"America the Beautiful 2" isn't as slick or polished as the better-funded films by Michael Moore or Morgan Spurlock. The doc itself could easily use a nip and a tuck, and Roberts opens up so many fronts he can't possibly do justice to them all.
It's going to take a lot more than this movie to convince most people that fat isn't necessarily unhealthy. Even so, you'll be grateful for his efforts. Roberts is an immensely amiable, engaging personality who easily relates to people and seems to genuinely care. It's certainly refreshing that he's not trying to sell us anything except a more down to earth self-image and a less sedentary lifestyle.
When he gets his own systolic blood pressure down from 160 to 116, not through dieting but exercise, you have to think he's on the right track.