Film Review: Fat, Sick & Nearly Dead

This Oprah-ready doc about the beneficial effects of good dieting manages to be educational and watchable without making you feel too bad about that Twix bar in your mouth.

Fat, Sick & Nearly Dead celebrates, of all things, the juicer. This simple appliance, used to make healthy fruit and vegetable drinks, is the key to veritable life changes for at least four of the people featured in this film.

Australian writer, director and producer Joe Cross, a successful businessman, was one hundred pounds overweight and suffering from a serious autoimmune disease. His weight went up and down, as one of his friends says, "like a bride's nightie," and he took to his bed in depression. Conventional medicine and doctors offered no real help, so Cross decided to let his body heal itself by quitting junk food and subsisting on natural juices for sixty days. He managed to turn his life around, inspiring others to follow his salubrious lead.

In the documentary, Cross travels across America, talking to people on the street, many of whom confess to junk food addictions and related weaknesses. Their views range from a girl who says she has no intention of altering anything, as "I'm 16 years old," to a middle-aged man who proclaims, "I've had heart surgery and if I die, well, I'm here for a few good years and I'll still eat what I want."

A few do realize the importance of a healthy lifestyle, and chief among Cross' disciples is Phil Staples, an obese, suicidal Iowa truck driver who confesses to hiding from his family, as he doesn't want his little boy to see him in his current condition. He suffers from the same rare illness as Cross, and reaches out to him in desperation after a random meeting on the road. Staples’ journey is truly inspirational as we see him morph from a mess who admits to scaring people ("They'd see this large, angry person approaching them, but I wasn't angry, I was in pain"), to a man one hundred pounds lighter, jogging and tossing a football with his son. Wyoming housewife Siong Norte once suffered from debilitating migraines that, after juicing, no longer torture her, although she still weakens at the smell of freshly baked bread.

Staples adopts Cross' healthful evangelism, encouraging his older brother to follow suit, and it is amazing to see the swift weight losses produced by juicing—or rebooting, as it's referred to here. The film maintains a light, affectionate tone, with some cutesy animation thrown in, and never becomes too preachy. Cross, for all that fluctuating flab, is a handsome, appealingly regular-guy guide throughout.

There is something in Fat, Sick & Nearly Dead for everyone to reflect upon, literal food for thought, and a couple of nutritionists weigh in with interesting observations. The amount of non-natural, processed foods people eat is indeed frightening and, as Dr. Joel Fuhrman states, results in a biological cause and effect leading to obesity and diabetes—in short, the overall medical disaster afflicting the United States. Juicing makes even more sense when you consider Staples’s $500 monthly bill for pills he no longer needs, not to mention his brother's $56,000 heart operation. The cost of juicing averages around $55 a month.

Audiences watching the film may find themselves stowing the popcorn and soda under their seats and heading to the juice bar afterwards. Wheat grass and kale shake, anyone? The enthusiasts in this film swear the taste grows on you.