Fast Food Nation (R) ★★★

Review Date: November 17th, 2006

Chow down on this taste of life inside the meat packing and “Happy Meal” Fast Food Nation.


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.

Bottom Line rated this film 3 stars.