How does a young man go from eating a mere 300 calories a day to becoming one of the world’s greatest competitive eaters? That’s the question The Story of Furious Pete explores as it follows the tale of YouTube sensation Pete Czerwinski, an all-or-nothing young guy who survived a dangerous bout with anorexia only to go on and become a bodybuilder who can also scarf down 20 sausages in 150 seconds.
Pete’s story is an unusual one. At 16, overwhelmed with his father’s bipolar disorder and his mother’s multiple sclerosis, Pete’s weight whittled down to a mere 120 pounds thanks to a diet of tea, lettuce, cucumber, and diet coke. On the verge of death, he landed in the hospital and was diagnosed with anorexia nervosa. Fast forward a few years and Pete is a rock solid workout enthusiast who makes the rounds on the competitive eating circuit. A 180 if ever there was one.
The real strength of this movie is watching the ridiculous spectacle of the “sport” of competitive eating. It’s disgusting, it’s horrifyingly gluttonous, and it’s surprisingly entertaining. It’s what the movie was originally about. Director George Tsioutsioulas was looking for Canadian competitive eaters for his documentary on the subject when he came across Furious Pete in Toronto. The inspirational story was too good to be true.
As far as documentary subjects go, Pete is a pretty good one. His friends call him “unusual,” “driven,” and “a man of “good morals.” He’s charming, charismatic, and pretty easy on the eyes. The problem is that his inherent shyness keeps the audience from ever really getting into his world. Instead we’re left on the outside looking in. Pete talks about his days as an anorexic, but since it’s something he’s already overcome we never really get a sense of how he struggled with the disease. He’s not big on introspection and seems reluctant to discuss either his psychology or his physiology, preferring to just go ahead and do his thing. The same goes for his Mother’s MS. Pete talks about it, and it’s something that’s clearly difficult for the family to deal with, but the audience is never privy to any of her physical struggles so it’s something we’re told about but never really see. We care, but perhaps not as much as we could. The only really touching moment we get is after a benefit to raise money for MS when Pete embraces his mom and is brought to tears.
That said, The Story of Furious Pete is an entertaining movie that provides more than a few laughs. It isn’t exactly thought provoking, but it’s certainly fun. There are moments that will make you turn away in disgust (the “snowball” of rib meat comes to mind) but you’ll keep turning back because watching him shovel it down is just plain astounding. (Pete apparently has no gag reflex so he can literally push food down his throat with more food). Producer Igal Hecht was also quick to assure the audience that a lot of footage was left on the cutting room floor because it was just too disgusting to put in the theatrical release. “Check out the DVD special features,” he said. Given what made it into the movie, that’s a frightening thought.
The Upside: Competitive eating contests are horrifyingly entertaining.
The Downside: If you have a weak stomach watching a man eat a pound of butter in a few seconds might not be a good idea.
On the Side: At the premiere Pete estimated that competitive eating competitions take 5 to 10 lives a year thanks to choking hazards and the occasional heart attack.