Last weekend I attended the gala screening of “Fast Food Nation” at the 50th London Film Festival. The director, author, and a pair of the film’s stars were in attendance, and after customary salutations, Richard Linklater took the stage to intro the film. He explained that they wanted the movie to give a voice to characters and ideas that “perhaps we don’t want to think about and often don’t get shown,” but are a very real aspect of contemporary America.
Indeed from the opening credits, viewers take a turn and are confronted with a morality play more awkward to scale than any fence in the desert. Migrant workers, environmental degradation, the unraveling of social fabric, safe and sanitary working conditions, nutrition… all are scaled, attempting to highlight the interconnections and complexity involved with a simple hamburger.
In this fictionalized adaptation of Eric Schlosser’s same-titled, non-fiction expose published in 2001, star cameos provide brevity to the weighty topic matter (Avril Lavigne as stylish student activist?!?). At first this take seems odd, the book clearly leans to documentary fodder. But the author explained that though he was approached by a number of documentary filmmakers, in the end he feared losing creative control.
Bruce Willis, playing Harry–Mickey’s supply chain manager cum conduit to cheap meat–gives a particularly enticing 2-minute monologue on the state of corporate affairs, concluding that “we all have to eat a little shit now and then.”
And though the film at times gets bogged down by its multifaceted storytelling, on the whole it remains poignant: Can we fault hope and determination just because it springs from an illegal, undocumented migrant worker from Mexico? Can we fault industrial meatpacking plants if they are operating within regulated guidelines?
This is not an anti-fast food industry movie, it is open-ended look at the facts of the matter. Whether or not you choose to head out for a ‘Big One’ or a quarter-pounder of any stripe after the show ultimately remains your own decision.