Fast Food Fast Women
2001, R, 96 min. Directed by Amos Kollek. Starring Angelica Torn, Valerie Geffner, Victor Argo, Austin Pendleton, Robert Modica, Louise Lasser, Jamie Harris, Anna Thomson.
REVIEWED By Marrit Ingman, Fri., Aug. 17, 2001
After carving out a little niche with gritty character studies like Fiona and Sue, Israeli-born writer-director Amos Kollek essays a breezy New York romance, with those crisscrossing slice-of-life storylines so typical of tales of the city. Thomson, Kollek's doe-eyed favorite leading lady, holds the film together as Bella, a benevolent diner waitress sweating the arrival of her 35th birthday. She's embroiled in a pointless carnal relationship with a fatuous sexagenarian Broadway director (Pendleton) gauche enough to pay her for snacks from her fridge (“Can I see the money first?” she asks, sarcastically, of the 50 cents proffered for a bowl of frozen yogurt.) But she's really on a collision course with romance, of course -- with British expatriate cab driver and fledgling novelist Bruno (Harris), a skirt-chaser and delinquent dad who's just been saddled with his two cherubic kids. When she's not practicing random acts of kindness (say, helping the stuttering Polish-immigrant hooker who lives in her building), Bella chats up a trio of kvetchy oldster types who frequent her diner, including dyspeptic Seymour (Argo) and kindly Paul (Modica), who's embarking on his own voyage of romantic self-discovery, vis-à-vis the personals. Throw in a leggy Jungian psychoanalyst (Geffner) who works, inexplicably but somehow predictably, in a peep-show booth and gives Paul nightly shows for free, and you've got a potpourri of quirk, which is in many ways all the movie amounts to. For the most part, Kollek's characters are thinly drawn eccentrics, so it's hard to feel invested in (or perhaps even interested in) the contrivances of their emotional entanglements. Juggling the polyphonous plotlines seems to overwhelm him, so the film often feels unfocused. Kollek also has an irritating habit of abruptly cutting into and out of scenes, without using establishing shots or other devices to give the viewer a sense of atmosphere, of the chummy urban charm one might reasonably expect from a Manhattan character piece centered around a dingy neighborhood diner. But the film has a number of bright spots, mostly from the seasoned ensemble cast. Lasser is a radiant delight as Paul's inamorata, a girlish sexagenarian widow, and their relationship seems natural and unforced -- only later do you realize how rare it is to see such a warm, engaging love story unfold between older people who are vital, attractive, and sympathetic. And in what's little more than an extended walk-on, Pendleton almost manages to steal the movie, with his geeky, owl-eyed oiliness and harebrained schemes (“Godzilla on Broadway!”). It's not wrong to wish these actors were working in the service of a better script or more assured direction, but it's probably also possible to simply take pleasure in their performances.