Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Fast Food Nation

Title: Fast Food Nation (2006)
Dir: Richard Linklater
Rating: **1/2 out of 5 stars

Based on Eric Schlosser's book of the same name, Fast Food Nation examines the social and ethical consequences of the fast food industry. It follows three simulatenous storylines - illegal immigrants are forced to work miserable, dangerous jobs at a meat-packing plant; a marketing exec for a McDonalds-esque company discovers the disgusting history of the meat they sell; and a teenage fast food clerk quits her job after meeting some animal rights activists.

I like the concept behind this Traffic-esque narrative, but unfortunately the film suffers from a lack of focus. Too often it misses the point and/or veers off course - in particular, the story about the teenager who hooks up with some so-called "environmentalists" and tries to free the cows. Firstly, the activists are self-centered college students with no real concept of animal welfare. Was this the point? That animal rights activists are stupid, or that these kids are just dumb? I really didn't get the point Schlosser and Linklater were trying to make. If they wanted to show how the fast food industry upsets our nation's youth and rallies activism, that would've been great, but they didn't do that. They just portrayed some dumb kids who are easily influenced. I don't see how this bears any relevance to the fast food industry.

There is also a worthless story attached to that one, wherein the teenager's former coworkers discuss a plot to rob the fast food resturant. It never goes anywhere, and it doesn't critize the industry at all. I guess the point was that clerks are paid so poorly that they'd be driven to crime. But again, they mostly come across as dumb teenagers who would do this sort of thing no matter where they worked.

The only real poignant narrative in the movie is Greg Kinnear as the marketing exec who investigates where the meat comes from. Then again, the only thing he really discovers is that the meat has a lot of fecal matter in it. I thought this part of the story could've included a lot more on the cruel treatment of the animals, or the other ways in which the meat gets tainted.

The story of the illegal immigrants is important, albeit a little misfired. Their miserable situation in the movie is not directly related to the fast food industry, but deals far more with immigration laws and workers' rights. Yes, the industry exploits their availability, but they don't have to work at the factory, nor do they have to even come to the USA. We never even see why they fled. This is a whole other issue, and Linklater really didn't focus enough on how the industry is responsible for their situation. I do think the issue of workers' rights in meatpacking plants is an important one, but it wasn't addressed as well as it should've been here.

Criticisms aside, Fast Food Nation does have its moments of poignancy and daring filmmaking. It may still make you think twice about getting that Big Mac next time. The movie isn't terrible, it just doesn't hit the nail on the head like it should have and could have. This movie could've been something really profound. Linklater should've dropped the teenager story (or steered toward a point) and explored a wider variety of the industry's consequences. What about environmental impacts? Cruelty to animals? Effects on our health and the nation's rising obesity levels? It's a real shame the movie missed all these issues.


patrick said...

just watched Fast Food Nation, it's an impactful flick to say the least... earlier today i passed up a sausage mcmuffin because of it. Evidently it is worth passing up fast food for more than health reasons.