Fast Food Fast Women

(Amos Kollek, USA/France, 2000)


The title Fast Food Fast Women (it’s the credits that skip the comma, not me) may conjure a brittle, chick-flick comedy of dieting, dating and lifestyle in the manner of Bridget Jones’s Diary (2001).

But, while there is whimsy and humour in writer-director Amos Kollek’s film, there is also material discomfort, tawdry humiliation and weary disillusionment. Kollek brings a touching poetic realism to the dreams and dilemmas of his everyday characters.

In an era when the talentless Todd Solondz (Storytelling, 2002) is once again sold to us as a maverick independent, it is salutary to turn one’s attention to Kollek, who is far more deserving of the title. Turning from novel writing to cinema in the mid ’80s, Kollek has been slowly and quietly developing his craft and sensibility. His early films (such as High Stakes, 1989) are frankly clumsy and amateurish. But by the time of Sue (1997) and Fiona (1998) – unseen here, but cult films in Europe – he hit his stride.

Fast Food Fast Women represents a change from the gritty, downbeat mode that Kollek has mastered in recent years. Like so many modern romantic comedies, it is about urban loneliness and the desperate, fraught search for some kind of connection through love. But the dark side of that formula is felt far more keenly here than in confections like Sleepless in Seattle (1993).

The story introduces us to a spray of characters. In the opening shot, Bella (Anna Thomson) lies down in the middle of traffic to see if anything interesting will happen. The dissolute, single-guy life of Bruno (Jamie Harris) is rudely interrupted when he has to unexpectedly look after the young family he once abandoned. A group of three old men (played to perfection by Robert Modica, Victor Argo and Mark Margolis) sit in a diner and moan about their aches and pains. A streetwalker, Vikta (Angelica Torn), struggles with a speech impediment.

Kollek proceeds to entangle these characters (and more) in many, often surprising ways. Misunderstandings and crossed signals reign over every exchange. Conventional notions of age and status are merrily confused as children talk with the wisdom of adults, and sexual desire prods people into unlikely, fleeting partnerships.

As a whimsical and sometimes ironic tale of love in New York, Fast Food Fast Women will be inevitably compared to the work of Woody Allen – although I consider it better than Allen’s preceding five films put together. Kollek’s style, however, is closer to two predecessors in the field of neurotic comedy.

Like Henry Jaglom (Someone to Love, 1987), Kollek favours a seemingly straightforward, uncluttered, improvisational approach that depends heavily on the charm of his performers. And like John Cassavetes (Minnie and Moskowitz, 1971), he is unafraid of generating painful humour from the most excruciating awkwardness between men and women.

Kollek’s film language never reaches the expressive heights of Cassavetes, but his sense of story structure is much stronger than Jaglom’s. Fast Food Fast Women revels in a beguiling set of repetitions, comparisons and echoes between its various characters and situations. Ultimately, the smallest gestures – such as Bella’s after-shower habit of throwing her towel down into the street – attain a lyrical, epiphanic grace.

The triumph of this movie belongs as much to Anna Thomson as Kollek. She has become an arthouse star in Europe through her work with Kollek, and it is easy to see why. Bella is a distinctively modern version of a ’30s screwball comedy heroine. Her mixture of eccentricity, resilience and yearning is sublime.

In the middle of all the daily misery, Kollek even dares to introduce a fairy tale element. And why not? Like Cassavetes, Kollek hates to make his characters suffer unduly, and refuses to consider them as social victims. Inexplicable magic or plain old good fortune can still change the course of these people’s destinies. When the film’s title finally makes sense in the closing scenes, we realise that Kollek has fashioned an ode to the power of small but decisive movements in daily life.

© Adrian Martin May 2002

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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