Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Fast Food, Fast Women (USA, 2000)

A pleasant, slow moving romantic comedy with a definite "feel good" bent that, had it been made with a big budget and big names, would have sucked. Much of its charm lies in the film's low-budget, almost underground film style, which helps make the at times rather trite story easier to deal with. Director Amos Kollek has cultivated a grainy, raw style for a couple of films now, though this could be the first time he applies it to a light comedy. His previous "alternative" critical successes here in Europe, Sue (1997) and Fiona (1998), also featured this raw, Cinéma Vérité style, but they were both the type of depressing film that such a style is common to.
Fast Food, Fast Woman, were it but a bit smoother and cleaner, could easily be mistaken as a Hal Hartley film. It even has scenes obviously improvised that have little to do with advancing the plot, as is so common to Hartley's projects. The short scene in which the young (Afro-American? Afro-Polish? Afro-Polish-American?) son of a Polish hooker dances briefly with Bella cannot help but bring to mind the much cleaner, "spontaneous" group dance in Hartley's excellent film Simple Men (1992).
It is often these little asides, these scenes which have nothing at all to do with the story per say and would never find their way in a mainstream film, which help add that quirky edge that makes these types of movies so enjoyable. Actually, Kollek is probably the only director to come to my mind that has gone from "established" to alternative films...
Kollek's first real film of note in the USA was Goodbye, New York (1985), starring Julie Hagerty at a time when people still knew who she was. A flop, his next two films were still relatively mainstream, even if his casts now tended to include more big names going down and little names going up: Forever, Lulu (1987) featured Hanna Schygulla, Debbie Harry, Alec Baldwin and an appearance from Dr. Ruth Westheimer, while High Stakes (1989) had Sally Kirkland, Kathy Bates and a very young Sarah Michelle Geller. Moving ever further away from mainstream cinema, Kollek next film of note was Whore II (aka Bad Girls) in 1994. Sold as a sequel to Kurt Russell's misfired Whore (1991), Kollek's film was realistic and effective in a way Russell's never came close to. But then, unlike Russell, Kollek let real whores do some talking in his film.
Although a director who tends to wallow in the gritty side of New York life, who likes so to focus on those marginal types that eventually fall through the cracks, in Fast Women, Fast Food Kollek has a rather dry, whimsical outlook that can find wry humor in as simple things as old men bullshitting about women, hookers who stutter when they get nervous, or suicide attempts as a way to add excitement to the day. The film is far from a laugh a minute, in fact, the laughs are seldom loud and mostly chuckles, but the accumulative effect is noticeable. The only truly over-the-top aspect of the story is its highly improbable and completely unexpected out of the left field ending. An obvious ironic comment on the concept of "happy ends," it is comparable to the equally laughable fairytale ending of the spry English comedy Saving Grace (2000) or, going even further back in film history, the happy ending F. W. Murnau was forced to add to his silent masterpiece The Last Laugh (1924).
The performances in Fast Food Fast Women are solid and the characterization strong, but one has to admit that this time around Anna Thompson, a critical favorite in Europe and star of both Sue and Fiona, is the weakest link in the whole film. Too old to play the character she does, her stretched facial skin prevents much acting and her arms and legs are so out of proportionally thin to the rest of her that the viewer can only assume that she has a junk habit that is as bad as her silicon job is good. That aside, for a quirky film about the human, generation-spanning need and search for love and happiness, Fast Food Fast Women is pleasant piece of low-budget fluff. Hardly crucial but completely enjoyable.

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