"I'm gonna fast food nation, just-a wanna have some fun, yeah!". Sorry, Sammy Hagar, but I don't reckon that forced Montrose reference fits, because the process of fasting from food is doing the exact opposite of eating a lot, and I don't know if this film is all that much fun. By that, I mean both that this film is slow and that this take on the subject of criticizing fast food is a little heavier than "Super Size Me", so to speak (Ha-ha, obesity joke). This is one of those handful of moments in which a documentary is a little more entertaining than a drama that deals with the same subject, and I can't say I'm surprised, because it's hard to predict the entertainment value of a film directed by the guy who did both "School of Rock" and "Waking Life". I'd say that Richard Linklater is quite the diverse filmmaker, but he just can't seem to get out of Texas, or at least won't allow Ethan Hawke to do so, which is good, I reckon, because as annoyingly liberal as Austin can be, it's better than being stuck in bad parts of Los Angeles. Well, this film was at least just shot in a bunch of parts of Texas, where I doubt the film was actually set, because as proud of a Texan as Linklater is, you know that he would be promoting him some Whataburger, which would likely be more willing to lend its name for usage in this film than McDonald's. Yeah, McDonald's must simply be getting tired of everyone only getting mad at them, but hey, at least we get some decent films out of them getting the business about their business, including this one, which, like McDonald's, still has some problematic bits to its recipe.
In a couple of areas, the film is kind of all over the place, and it's certainly that when it comes to pacing, because as if Richard Linklater's directorial dryness doesn't stiffen momentum enough, Linklater's and Eric Schlosser's script goes dragged out by repetitious filler set pieces and even a couple excessive narrative layers which bloat focus to the point of losing consistency. The film ambitiously juggles various subplots involving the discovery of dark business secrets, the perspective of members of different stages in a questionable business process, and a few other affairs, and with all of that going on, the film ends up being pretty uneven, partly because it doesn't take much time to settle in on developing the various dramatic layers. No, the film is more thematic than dramatic, being kind of lacking in human depth as an ensemble character story, the fleshing out of which could have ironically made for a more thematically effective opus, the depths of which are undercut enough by an unevenness in tone. I suppose this is generally a continuation of Linklater's more dramatic movement following "Bad News Bears", but Linklater cannot completely wash away the lighter moments that, while often effective in livening things up, feel less like comic relief and more like jarring breaks in dramatic weight that is to ostensibly to be taken seriously, as reflected by Linklater's getting to be a little too thoughtful in his direction. As I said earlier, scripted pacing is problematic enough, but a bigger problem might very well be atmospheric pacing, as Linklater adopts his most thoughtful tone in quite some time, and often gets carried away with it, to the point of all-out dryness and, dare I say, dullness, which further thins down a sense of weight that is softened enough by unrealized characterization and whatnot, until Linklater tries too hard to drive home dramatic weight. Moments of slight tonal abrasiveness and obvious visuals inspired subtlety lapses which reflect ambition through all of the laziness, and such a sloppy formula goes challenged enough by genuine inspiration to save the film, but, well, barely. The final product flirts with mediocrity as an uneven drama that is too lacking in depth and entertainment value to be all that effective, but what the film does right is done very right, and that even goes further certain aesthetic touches.
As one of Richard Linklater's more dry endeavors in relatively recent years, this film is very unevenly exploratory of musicality, but that only makes it all the more special when post-rock band Friends of Dean Martinez delivers on a subtly dynamic and intricate score whose personal artistic value and atmospheric value do a lot to drive highlights in the film's aesthetic value, sustained throughout the final product by cinematography by Lee Daniel whose watery coloration and subtle lighting are handsomely unique and fitting to the grimy tone of the drama. Style is solid in this drama of limited substance, and when Linklater, as director, does indeed influence substance with style, in addition to controlled moments in generally questionable pacing, the film bites as genuinely intriguing, both thematically, and dramatically. Of course, if there are dramatic highlights here, they're perhaps mostly the doing, not of Linklater's performance, but of the performances found throughout a hefty, if oversized cast of esteemed talents whose convincingness, often mixed with solid dramatic layering, does a much finer job of selling the human factor of this drama than the storytelling. Depth is seriously lacking in a lot of ways to storytelling, and were it not for the worthy, if underwritten performances the final product could have perhaps sunk deeper into the brink of mediocrity, and yet, there are still those highlights in storytelling, and certainly value to subject matter. On paper, the film's story is of greater worth than its execution, as a drama that studies on various interpretations of morally challenging affairs, and as a deconstruction of the fast food industry and the problematic technical and human factors behind it, with a great potential for intrigue that is done only so much justice by Linklater and Eric Schlosser, as screenwriters. The script is overblown, undercooked and often even unsubtle, and that's a problem so big that it threatens the decency of the final product, which is actually secured partly by highlights in Linklater's and Schlosser's scripting, whose razor-sharp dialogue keeps up a degree of entertainment value during all of the dull chatter, and whose extensiveness as a showcase of worthy themes intrigues about as much as highlights in memorable characterization and plot structuring. The script has flat elements, in addition to elements that are all-out strong, as surely as Linklater's direction meets its own flat elements with strengths, enough to drive the final product as adequately effective, if not what it should have been and wants to be.
When the order is up, uneven pacing, focus and tone, serious underdevelopment and alternations between a bland lack of flare and some glaring subtlety lapses threaten even decency in the promising project, but through solid scoring and cinematography, thoughtful direction, strong performances and clever highlights in the scripted interpretation of dramatically and thematically worthy subject matter, mediocrity is challenged enough for "Fast Food Nation" to stand as a serviceably intriguing and sometimes thought-provoking, if often either overambitious or lazy portrait on the grimy depths and varying interpretations of the flawed fast food industry.
2.5/5 - Fair