Fast Food Nation Review: Only 60% Lean
by Alex Billington
November 17, 2006
Fast Food Nation is Richard Linklater's film adaptation of the New York Times Bestseller of the same name by author Eric Schlosser. Linklater and Schlosser teamed up to write the screenplay that puts a fictional spin on the otherwise factual accounts that are presented in the book and tells a number of stories about the fast food industry's effect on America. Although there's a great message in the film targeted at those who haven't read the book, it is an unfortunately poor translation. The fictionalized stories don't hold up as well as the book's realism and in the end the strength of the message is lost.
Fast Food Nation is about the sickening nature of our world's fast food system and the destruction it wreaks on many levels. This film version explores a number of stories, starting with Don Anderson (Greg Kinnear), a Vice President of Marketing at fast food giant Mickey's. A research study discovered that the quantity of fecal matter found in their meat was high - there was literally "shit in the meat" - so Don is sent to Colorado to investigate the meat packing plants. Another story focuses on a number of illegal Mexican immigrants who are shuttled to Colorado to work at the same meat packing plant in dangerous and disgusting jobs. A third story follows Amber (Ashley Johnson), a teenager who works at a Mickey's restaurant in the same Colorado town and eventually quits to become an activist after learning the truth behind the system.
Fast Food Nation is a bit of rough filmmaking from Richard Linklater, who typically succeeds best in creating weird animated films (A Scanner Darkly and Waking Life), or the rare comedic gem (School of Rock). The script is at fault for most of the problems that I found in Fast Food Nation. It doesn't translate well into a fictional film, and is not as powerful or as enthralling as the book, which is where Fast Food Nation is best suited in its original written medium; maybe even in documentary or mockumentary format it might have been better. The stories build up some momentum but then unexpectedly trail off into tragic and unaffecting endings. The resolution to Don's investigation in Colorado was never explained, and the remaining two stories did not wind up in a satisfying fashion either.
There really was nothing outstanding in Fast Food Nation beyond the message that was being built up. Although I love what Linklater has previously been capable of, that originality isn't not the best this time around. Fast Food Nation's most striking moment is the ending, on the "kill floor" of the meat packing plant, which should leave a lasting image in the minds of moviegoers. It shows just how widespread of an impact, whether good or bad, the fast food industry has: it affects people on many levels from various races and lifestyles: CEOs, VPs, illegal Mexican workers, families, and adolescent teens.
If the co-creators had wanted to get this powerful message across, especially to younger people who need to know how bad fast food is, then they should've made a PG-13 film, and that could have easily been done. No matter how shoddy the story is, the message still clearly gets across, even if it was unintended. Just cut a bit of the language and sexuality and it would've been perfect, give or take the realistic and disgusting meat packing scenes that add a powerful emphasis. I feel even if they did cut the sexuality, they could have negotiated for a PG-13 and really struck hard with that message to a wider audience. Now that message is lost amidst the glorified ideals of Hollywood that fills a film with sexuality and language just to get viewers to it - what a waste in itself.
Fast Food Nation is best left in its original book medium and not touched by Hollywood's typical butchers. With a few average performances, one of which being Greg Kinnear and cameos from Bruce Willis and Luis GuzmÃ¡n, run of the mill directing from Linklater, and a sloppy story, Fast Food Nation isn't a shining gem opening this weekend. At least it tells a strong, true message to the people of this nation.