One of our favorite filmmakers, Richard Linklater, is releasing a new film this August. So, we figured we’d watch all of the other movies he has made before then… just, you know, for context. (While applying a totally made up rating system, of course). Follow along with us.
Fast Food Nation is an adaptation of investigative journalist Eric Schlosser’s book of the same name, a skewering of the United States fast food industry. Linklater wrote the screenplay with Schlosser, translating the themes of the nonfiction book to the form of a narrative film. It received mixed reviews from both critics and audiences which, given the unpleasant realities it dwells on, isn’t really surprising. This mirror is pretty brutal.
Who is the protagonist? Who is the film about?
Although the film has lots of characters and its reach is sprawling, most of the action pivots around Sylvia, a woman who makes the dangerous trek from Mexico to the United States with her husband and sister, presumably lured to the possibility of gainful employment. Undocumented, Sylvia and her family are vulnerable to the abuses of their Colorado meat-packing plant employers, who both pay them more than they have ever been paid before and abuse their vulnerability in a myriad of ways.
Secondary protagonists are Amber, a high school student who works at Mickey’s, an extremely thinly veiled parody of McDonald’s (or really, any fast food chain in America); and Don, a Mickey’s marketing executive who is sent to investigate a researcher’s claim that Mickey’s burgers have shit in them. Which is true. Eating shit comes up again and again in this movie.
Who/what is the antagonist – or propels the action?
The assholes who run the meat packing plant feel like the personification of the villain – but the real antagonist is the American capitalist machine, which feeds on cheap labor, compromise, consumerism, convenience, and a perpetual commitment to ever-increasing profits and limitless fiscal growth. The bloody brutality and dehumanizing practices at the meat packing plant are an apt illustration of the impact of a system devoid of an ethical center.
Midnight Cinematic Index (MCI) Rating
There are many characters – some who show up only for a single scene (like Bruce Willis!) – and Linklater is pretty successful at giving you a sense of who they are in the limited time we have with each of them. But, we don’t really go too deep with anyone here – it’s just not what this movie is.
This movie is not at all stylistically flashy, even bordering at times on kind of boring. This pragmatic, unsexy realism makes the terrible things that do happen – especially toward the end of the film – even more upsetting.
The inconsistent way the movie jumps between stories makes it tough, at times, to locate yourself in the passage of time, and can result in losing track of the emotional build of some of its threads. The overall impact of the movie’s zoomed out point of view works, but some of the storylines feel inconsistently weighted – a times overly digressive, at times too quick and shallow.
Fast Food Nation feels like a nightmare: a horrifying conspiracy theory that has become real American life. Connecting the absurdity of the Mickey’s executives’ conversation about Calypso chicken fingers to Sylvia’s lived reality of indentured servitude (slavery?) to the college students’ futile and completely ineffective attempts at making change, the whole interconnected web of choices feels like a system that has slipped out of the grasp of human beings, spinning on its own energy into oblivion. The film makes no apologies for its fury about this absurdity – and I gotta say, it’s pretty hard to imagine eating a burger after this experience. Plus, that burger probably has shit in it. And maybe also, someone got their leg chopped off so that you could eat it. Enjoy!
Midnight Rating: 3
Fast Food Nation is flawed, but packed with upsetting realities explained in a matter-of-fact, non-sensational way, and its impact stuck with me for days after watching it.
Linklaterism Bonus: 21%
For armchair philosophizing, conspiracy theories,
mildly threatening hypermasculinity.
Fast Food Nation is rentable (Vudu, Google Play, iTunes) – if you’re a fan of any of the movies below, we recommend checking out!