By Stephanie Zacharek
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Take a couple of love-starved women, add a few jerky, insecure men, throw in some grimy downtown New York locations, stir it all together with quirky dialogue, a formless plot, and a fairy-tale ending, and you've got the recipe for an Amos Kollek film. This Israeli-born director, whose credits include Fiona and Sue, keeps mining the city's emotional landscape with his signature mix of fantasy and desolation.
In his latest, Fast Food, Fast Women, Kollek muse Anna Thompson plays Bella, the star waitress in a classic tin diner, a terminally nice woman whose 35th birthday is rapidly approaching. Her longtime boyfriend is married, so her mother sets her up with Bruno (Jamie Harris), a cute lech and novelist-cab driver. Bruno's ex-wife has just run off to Tibet with her yoga instructor, leaving two small children in his care and cramping his dating style considerably. Meanwhile, Paul (Robert Modica), a retired but still dapper devotee of Bella's diner, ignores the advice of his alter kocker friend Seymour (Vincent Argo) and responds to a personal ad placed by Emily (Louise Lasser), a comely widow. The two romances start and sputter, with much meandering and confusion, and even some intergenerational shtupping.
Kollek has said he builds his stories through "free association," and that principle seems to be at work here: Fast Food, Fast Women is full of incongruities, labyrinthine subplots, and deus ex machinas. With his plummy British accent, roguish good looks, and weakness for children, Bruno is a bohemian girl's dream come true, while Bella (who left a cushy Wall Street job to work as a waitress because the people in diners seemed "more real" to her) is equally a creature of fancy. The film's relentless focus on her pending midlife crisis is belied by Thompson's vulnerable, Kewpie-doll beauty; she appears to have passed that milestone some time ago.
Still, there's much pleasure to be had in watching these gifted and highly individual actors groaning over their fate as they tentatively set about love's first fumblings. Lasser's comic and tender instincts, in particular, remain impeccable, infusing Paul and Emily's elderly courtship with a rare warmth and wacky humor. Masculine foibles appear to be a Kollek specialty. While his women are continually gauging their odds, his menfrom Bella's producer boyfriend ("We're putting Godzilla on Broadway") to Bruno and his visions of literary greatnessare trapped in pathetic illusions. In his film's better moments, Kollek makes us laugh at these visions while also revealing their grace and frailty.
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