Based on the best-selling book of the same name Fast Food Nation has three intertwined stories revolving around the fast food industry. Don Anderson (Greg Kinnear) is a corporate marketing guy assigned to put a positive spin on the bad news that fecal traces has been found in the meat. He goes to the meat factory to investigate and doesn’t like what he sees but no one offers him a viable solution. Then there’s Raul (Wilmer Valderrama) and Sylvia (Catalina Sandino Moreno) Mexican immigrants who cross the border illegally. The only job they can get is in the meat factory. She bears with demeaning sexual advances while he faces the unhealthy and dangerous conditions to try for the American Dream. Finally we meet Amber (Ashley Johnson) who works in a local franchise. She’s just a high school girl trying to pay for her car insurance. This isn’t her future but it dominates her present. The corporate story is a comedy about ineffective management and media spin. The immigrants’ story is a hard drama about a bad life. Amber’s story straddles both lines--a slacker teen comedy but also introspective about what the job is doing to her soul. It may be no secret these days but it’s still fascinating. There is plenty of juicy dialogue for actors to sink their teeth into (pun intended). Kinnear plays the corporate suit as lovably as possible. He’s the put-upon business cog similar to his characters in The Matador and Little Miss Sunshine but funnier because it’s the system that’s futile not his own dreams. Valderrama has a smaller part just supporting his wife going through a horrible life with noble determination. Moreno is as heartbreaking as she was in her Oscar-nominated performance in Maria Full of Grace. You sense so much potential in her and she’s stuck in the factory demeaned by sexual harassment and unable to save her sister from succumbing to it. She adds new colors of despair to the immigrant experience. Johnson is careful not to make her character too wise beyond her years. She really is just a normal kid. High school sucks so do counter jobs. It’s not about being unique just relatable. Cameos stand out too. Ethan Hawke plays the coolest uncle ever. He comes to town for two scenes spouts off his cool-uncle advice and then leaves. Even though he’s a self-confessed loser he’s convincing. And he buys her beer. Bruce Willis gives a speech on the meat industry with his David Addison smirk while chomping into a burger. We’re sold. Director Richard Linklater does a good job keeping the comedy and drama balanced. He cuts back and forth between stories at sensible intervals. Towards the end Greg Kinnear disappears for a long time but Ashley Johnson’s story beefs up to compensate. Showing the inner workings of the meat factory is pretty powerful. Cow guts falling out and bodies mangled by machinery are not fun things to watch but they are important to remember. It’s all up there on the screen but not gratuitous—and doesn’t have to ruin meat forever. Just think how all foods have processes that we don’t see and still taste good. There are plenty of scenes in which the characters are talking a real Linklater specialty (Before Sunset Before Sunrise for example). Whether they’re talking about meat or minimum wage jobs or life ambitions the conversations have a catchy flow. The satire of corporate America and slacker lifestyles juxtaposed against the drama of immigrant life makes Fast Food Nation both ridiculously funny and appropriately uncomfortable.
Mira Sorvino is the beautiful Princess Leonide who falls in love with Agis (Jay Rodan) her sworn enemy. The story goes something like this: the Princess' family killed Agis' parents many years ago and appropriated his throne which the Princess inherited. Worried for Agis' safety the philosopher Hermocrates (Ben Kingsley) and his spinster sister Leontine (Fiona Shaw) took the tyke in and raised him in obscurity. Hermocrates has taught Agis to despise women--the Princess in particular (the handsome Agis even practices his archery skills on a wooden cutout of her). One day the Princess sees Agis romping around naked in the woods which apparently is enough to make her fall in love with him. Off she goes to his estate dressed up like a man and posing as a student of philosophy interested in Hermocrates' work in hopes of getting invited for a sojourn at their estate. But in order to get close to Agis she must first get into his surrogate family's good graces. What transpires is a hilarious comedy of errors as the Princess (and her new identity as Phocion) gets engaged to both Hermocrates and Leontine while she is hot on Agis' trail.
At first glance I thought Mira Sorvino (Wisegirls) was not entirely well cast as Princess Leonide because of her clumsy image but by the end of the film she had grown on me in this regal part. She is able to play both sexes quite convincingly thanks in large part to how 18th century men dressed: frilly shirts leggings hose and periwigs. Jay Rodan (The Caveman's Valentine) plays the sheltered Prince Agis and although he did a reasonable job it isn't memorable. Perhaps it's the lack of chemistry between Rodan and Sorvino but it seems as though any actor could have filled those princely shoes. As Leontine Fiona Shaw (Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone) is a little over-the-top with the old maid routine but still well suited for the role of the mad scientist type. The most impressive cast member is Ben Kingsley (Sexy Beast) in the role of Hermocrates. He encompasses the role of wise savant with a certain goofiness that makes his character secretly warm and charming.
The Triumph of Love is an adaptation of Pierre Marivaux's 1732 comedy by the same name. Because of the physical comedy needed to pull off this genre the film often walks a fine line between being expressive and cartoonish: the way Sorvino bows for example or how Shaw reacts to a declaration of love. However the story which starts off as flighty scheme that could actually never work takes an almost dark turn when Princess Leonide's plan begins to unravel bringing the film to a both tragic and comical ending. Director Clare Peploe adds the right artful touch with impressive costumes and authentic sets but spends a little too much time building the story and not enough on the film's outcome. There is also an interesting bit at the end when the characters hold hands take a bow and break out into song serving as a clever reminder that the film was originally set for the stage.