Fast Food Revelation

Linklater's Side of ThingsLike many of you, I am often wondering, “When is somebody going to make a movie that Ted Nugent and Richard Gere can agree on?” For the hundreds of Austinites who couldn’t wait to find Richard Linklater’s resolution to that question, Tuesday’s local premiere of Fast Food Nation provided an early look at the big downer that is industrialized food preparation. The rest of the town will just have to wait until Friday to have their consciousness raised and their appetite lowered.

The pre-show scene at the Paramount was the usual relaxed spectacle, although this is the first time I’ve noticed an actual velvet rope separating the celebs from the hoi polloi – somebody must be feeling their oats after Prop 4. And speaking of oats, the Farmers Market erected along the East side of Congress may have given patrons the opportunity to enjoy wholesome, locally-raised organic snacks before the movie, but most later regretted having any food in their stomach, organic or otherwise.

Fast Food Nation is Charlie and the Chocolate Factory in an abattoir, except Fast Food Nation has no chocolate, no Oompa-Loompas, and is largely presented in Spanish. In order to condense Eric Schlosser’s expansive muckracking into a dramatic narrative, Linklater chose to gravitate the story around the plight of three illegal immigrants who take work in a Colorado slaughterhouse to finance their ill-fated stab at the American Dream. Numerous threads float in orbit – the fast-food exec investigating meat quality (to put it politely), the alienated kids who flip the burgers, the soul-sucking sameness of a chain-laden town, the rancher fighting to keep his land – but they are tangents to the plight of the Mexican workers, one of whom is Fez from That 70’s Show, which was a little distracting.

But among all the humans, the slaughterhouse is the most consistent and developed character in the movie. This is good if your main goal is to gradually force viewers to accept the micro-level vulgarity of convenient consumption. Not so good if you want people to grasp the enormity of the system and depth of the consequences that are enmeshed with our fast food culture. With the freedom of print, Schlosser’s source work manages to tell several individual stories that interconnect into a wide-ranging ecosystem of risk. Linklater’s film adaptation feels stuck in between these two perspectives. It is a noble attempt, but ultimately one that is simultaneously cluttered and incomplete.

That said, this film is remarkable for existing at all. If you thought the end of Apocalypse Now was unsettling, you ain’t seen nothing yet.

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