Fast Food, Fast Women Movie Review
"Fast Food, Fast Women" is a considerably imperfect movie, the intangible charm of which has to grow on you.
Most everything wrong with it can be summed up by the fact that it absolutely screams "my first low-budget indie," yet writer-director Amos Kollek has been making movies for 15 years (all small independent films, straight-to-videos or quickie sequels).
It's uneven and under-rehearsed. It's clear that Kollek had only one or two takes to choose from in editing some scenes. It has all the trappings of a Woody Allen wannabe, including Allenesque opening credits, Allenesque handheld camerawork, an Allenesque ensemble ranging in age and recognition, Allenesque quirky characters (how about a stuttering hooker?) and nervously insecure Allenesque leads. The picture even co-stars Louise Lasser ("Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman"), Woody Allen's ex-wife and frequent collaborator.
But despite gross imitation and immature filmmaking, at the heart of "Fast Food" is an ensemble of characters -- vaguely interconnected New Yorkers fed up with looking for love after a certain age -- that, given time, you really begin to care about.
Bella (Anna Thompson) is a weary, rail-thin 35-year-old waitress whose stalled-out existence and romantic life as the long-neglected mistress of a Broadway director would trouble her even if she didn't have to put up with the disappointed belittlings of her house-in-the-Hamptons mother (Judith Roberts).
She's set up on a date with Bruno (Jamie Harris), a cocky jerk of a Don Juan taxi driver and an irresponsible absentee father to boot. Bruno is the guy who won me over to a positive review when I realized I'd grown to like him as he evolved into someone with a soul.
Paul (Robert Modica) is a widowed retiree on the verge of depression. He hangs around with a band of old buddies ("The other day I was sitting in the park drinking my prune juice...") who still talk about sex like randy teenage boys but are, in fact, even more miserable than Paul.
After desperation misfires with a few younger women (including the stuttering hooker), he meets Emily (Lasser), a flaky, equally lonely and twice as desperate woman his own age. They walk on eggshells through the awkwardness of their first dates in 40 years and soon start to feel that old spark again.
But "Fast Food, Fast Women" is not a movie about romance or how people find each other. It's more a movie about all the obstacles in the way of people finding each other. It's about the fact that people don't always grow more confident and more comfortable with themselves as they age.
Kollek is an amateurish writer and director, front-loading his characters with transparently cute quirks (Bella worries about the health of the mice in her apartment) and creating scenes that feel terribly staged. His actors seem to be winging it half the time, but mostly they're talented enough to rise to the occasion. At first it seems their performances are a little stilted, but slowly it becomes clear that it's the characters themselves who are stiff and uneasy.
The writer-director also feels obligated to give one of the characters a ridiculous, urban fairy-tale kind of payoff in the last act that almost sinks the movie with the way it jettisons any modicum of plausibility. The viewer has to willingly write off these kinds of problematic absurdities along with the movie's other unavoidable shortcomings and contrivances to get to the meat in "Fast Food."
But if you're willing to look for it, there is warmth and empathy at the core of this movie that can overcome everything about it that's frustrating.