Passion River
Reviewed for &, linked from Rotten Tomatoes by Harvey Karten
Director: John Beckham
Screenwriter: Bethany McKenzie, Amanda J. Adkins, James Reynolds, Deborah Reynolds
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 11/11/21
Opens: November 9, 2021

Don’t touch that cake!

Doctors in their graduation ceremonies take the oath first promulgated in ancient Greece by Hippocrates, but medical schools seem to forget one of the great quotes of the father of medicine: “Let food be thy medicine.” How did a doctor in the Periclean age 2500 years ago know more than doctors today? That’s not all. The Greeks coined the term “diabetes,” which means “funnel,” because Greeks drank and lot and therefore urinated a lot. People who urinate a great deal today are likely to be advised to take a test for diabetes.

This brings us to John Beckham’s sophomore (and sometimes sophomoric) documentary “The Diabetes Solution.” Beckham, whose previous doc deals with a county in Maryland that has produced a disproportionate number of NBA basketball players, realizes that the exercise you can get from playing basketball has something in common with a good diet. Exercise and diet are both advisable for health. People with Type 1 diabetes do not make enough insulin, while people with the more common Type 2 diabetes make insulin but, to put it in simple terms, the insulin cannot catch up to the intake of carbohydrates. Several kids and parents and doctors are interviewed with the help of diagrams (but no cute animations) and note that the American Diabetes Association has become corrupted by money contributed to them by Big Pharma and Big Agriculture. The profits of the latter two organizations are threatened by all the stuff thrown at us from scientists, especially from honest dieticians, who follow Hippocrates’ advice about letting food be our medicine. It should be noted that while a large percentage of disease is brought on by improper diets, med schools have been known to spend only one week or one day on nutrition during the four years that keep their charges busy.

Mothers whose kids have been affected by Type 1 diabetes have long been that they can keep the illness under control by matching insulin injections (ugh) with carbohydrates eaten. They balance each other, is the idea. But because the balance is difficult to maintain, kids have had blood sugar first spike (with the intake of starchy foods like cupcakes), then descend to hypoglycemic levels (from the intake of insulin.) Up and down like a roller coaster. So: how to get the line straight instead of up and down forever? Limit carbohydrates. The kids in the movie have followed the advice of the good doctors (there are some) and have avoided spending time in hospitals. No Fruit Loops, Pepsi, Coke and Kellogg’s cereals for them. By being good kids they avoid neuropathy and diarrhea. Also comas and death. Simple as that.

There are problems in this film caused by a lack of nuance. While the film talks about carbs, carbs, carbs, it neglects to mention that saturated fat may also be disastrous, too much of which can lead to heart attacks. In fact, New York City mayor elect Eric Adams came out with a book in October “Healthy at Last,” citing his trip to Dr. Esselstyn’s course in veganism, the belief that giving up animal fat is not only ethical for both the animals and the globe, but also leads to better health. Adams cut his hemoglobin A1c from 17 to below 6 purely on diet, having given up eating what former police like him consume during their midnight shifts where a typical individual would tackle pizza and big Macs and more in a single shift.

The other big problem is that the audience can go away thinking that all carbs are bad. How come tomatoes and broccoli and brussels sprouts and carrots, all carbohydrates, are good for you and can be eaten by people with Type 1 diabetes? Those are complex carbohydrates. Only simple carbs are to be avoided: that message did not come across.

Another big thumbs-downer? Music, music, music. Tinkling piano and pounding drums almost throughout. Is this a concert or a nutrition-based documentary? Some of the producers appear to have made the decision that there is not enough drama in the movie, not enough information to get our blood flowing, so they try to distract us with music. This film is not a thriller, and even action movies are infused with too much orchestration. When you go to the theater for a serious play, not a musical, is music piped in at all? Of course not, nor should it be, but casting broadsides against the intrusiveness of music in soundtracks is a lost cause. Maybe I am one of the few who are disgusted with such distraction.

55 minutes. © 2021 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – C+ (false or misleading information)
Acting – B
Technical – C (music)
Overall – B-