Compared to Waiting for Guffman, the sublime Best in Show, and A Mighty Wind, this is an unexpectedly feeble premise—and one that was handled more deftly in Guest’s first (non-improvised) feature, The Big Picture. It’s stiffer than the other films, too, maybe because it doesn’t have the flexible mockumentary framing device. The milieu is too familiar, and the contempt for the characters a bit too deep. It’s disappointing to see that swami of schnooks Levy rehashing the same old dissembling Hollywood agent.
The good news is that For Your Consideration gooses you even in its barren patches and gets fresher and funnier as it goes along. It builds to a shriekingly funny (and scary) revelation and a dénouement so brilliant it’s almost demonic. And the movie must be seen for Catherine O’Hara, who has never been so physically daring and emotionally open. You’ll laugh and cry as the talk of a nomination wakes her character up from a hoarse, withered stupor and turns her into something too foolishly hopeful to bear.
I have two wishes. The first is that every American will see Richard Linklater’s fictional film of Eric Schlosser’s incendiary exposé Fast Food Nation—not only because it penetrates to the feces-ridden heart of the vile, gruesome abomination of nature that is the average burger-chain burger, but also because it dramatizes the ways in which the industry has permeated, desecrated, and poisoned everything in this culture, from the economy to the environment to the treatment of animals to the health and lives of its workers. My other wish is that it were a better movie.
It gets the job done and then some, but it’s ugly and clumsily shaped, and every scene is there to rack up sociological points: When an illegal immigrant leans over a giant meat-grinder and you think, “There go his legs!” it would be surprising if there, indeed, did not go his legs.
Fast Food Nation opens with a gross-out zoom-in on a suspiciously sticky brown patty, after which we learn that independent tests have turned up large quantities of cow manure in the burgers of a giant chain called Mickey’s (cough). New exec Greg Kinnear—creator of a hot new slab called the Big One—jets off to Colorado to investigate the plant where Big Ones are stamped out from giant blocks of meat and gristle. The well-meaning lightweight learns (through indirect channels) that workers are forced to work so quickly that the poop pours out of the intestines over everything. The best scene in the movie features a bald Bruce Willis enjoying a hunk of beef, patting his gut, and espousing—in the best Network tradition—a Republican free-market philosophy with charming thuggishness: Americans are ’fraidy cats. The meat won’t hurt you if it’s cooked. And we all have to eat shit from time to time. Anyone who doubts that Willis is a devilishly subtle comedian has a happy meal in store.
The rest of Fast Food Nation is designed to empty your stomach and make your blood boil, from the punk (Paul Dano) who tops Kinnear’s burger with a blob of spit to a plant boss (Bobby Cannavale) who beds illegal workers and plies them with crystal meth. A high-school girl (Ashley Johnson, who has a lovely presence) has her consciousness raised by Ethan Hawke and Avril Lavigne (among other stars in cameos), but there’s no throwing a monkey wrench into a machine this vast and insidious. Having survived balloons of cocaine in her stomach in Maria Full of Grace, Catalina Sandino Moreno (who points out that “not all of us can get hired at the Banana Republic”) ends up ankle-deep in blood on the killing floor watching (real) cows get (really) slaughtered and disemboweled.
I’m not sure there’s any way to kill and cut up an animal on-camera that would come off kind and gentle—so unless the film is making the case for vegetarianism (it’s possible), the graphic footage isn’t exactly kosher. Fast Food Nation gives you much to chew on and much to expel, but at least you’ll be sick for a healthy cause.