Combustible Celluloid
 
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With: Anna Thomson, Louise Lasser, Jamie Harris, Robert Modica, Angelica Torn, Victor Argo, Austin Pendleton, Sandrine Holt, Valerie Geffner, Mark Margolis, Judith Roberts, Lynn Cohen, Salem Ludwig, Irma St. Paule
Written by: Amos Kollek
Directed by: Amos Kollek
MPAA Rating: R for sexuality, nudity and language
Running Time: 96
Date: 05/15/2000
IMDB

Fast Food, Fast Women (2001)

2 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Love Bites

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Let's assume for the moment that actress Anna Thomson is director Amos Kollek's "muse." That would go far in explaining her strange leading role in the new film Fast Food, Fast Women, opening today in Bay Area theaters. In the film, she plays Bella, an overworked waitress at a New York diner who worries about turning 35. She's dating an aging, married Broadway producer who refuses to commit, then she falls in love with a flighty British taxi driver. But, in the end, she's not the focus of the film.

Instead, our attention slowly wanders over to Emily (Louise Lasser), a lonely widow who places a personals ad. Paul (Robert Modica) answers it and the two begin a lovely, tender courtship beginning with an awkward date in Bella's diner. Emily wants to get right to the sex, but Paul feels uneasy about jumping in so soon. Meanwhile, the taxi driver (Jamie Harris, Richard's son), finds her attractive and gives her a ride, both in his cab and otherwise.

It's too bad this little romance, complete with twists and turns, takes up so little screen time in Fast Food, Fast Women. Instead we get scene after scene of Bella, who is also an interesting character, but whose job in the film is ultimately guardian angel, muse and catalyst. (She's also a catalyst in her most recognizable role, the "cut-up hooker" in Unforgiven who causes all the trouble.) We learn that she once had a high-paying Wall Street job but quit to work in a diner because it feels more real. She takes the opportunity to help out her customers beyond just feeding them. She gives advice, and even makes sure they're eating healthfully.

She's so together at her diner job (the owner can't seem to operate without her) that it's hard to reconcile her awkwardness when she's not at work. The first time we see her, she simply lies down in the middle of a crosswalk, nearly getting hit by a car. At other times, she walks out on her balcony wearing nothing but a bathrobe, and drops even that much to a homeless man below. She has an odd look as well, sort of like a less starched Angelina Jolie, huge breasts and lips, very thin arms, long, stringy blond hair. But it's her sad eyes that make her so interesting. In any case, when all her problems finally get solved, it's accomplished through the use of a 1940s screwball plot device, which slightly cheapens the character.

Sometimes when a writer begins to care too much about certain characters, he or she will refuse to do anything horrible to them -- give them any conflict -- which is indeed the basis for any successful story. Such is the case with poor Bella.

A third, rather pathetic subplot involving the wonderful character actor Victor Argo (The Last Temptation of Christ, Ghost Dog) has him falling in love with a stripper and begging her to go out with him. As far as I'm concerned, this is just more time taken away from Emily and Paul.

Director Kollek gives his New York a muddy, grimy look (it seems to creep into Bella's pores) that's halfway between Nora Ephron's sanitized You've Got Mail New York and Martin Scorsese's dark, unredeemable Taxi Driver New York -- though this look doesn't particularly contribute anything to the feel of the film. Things seem a bit slower and more thoughtful than most romantic comedies, however. And this movie's goofy charm won me over by the time it ended.