A quirky, sweetly observed comedy about the romantic travails of a cross-section of modest-income New Yorkers, “Fast Food, Fast Women” boasts engaging characters, inventive situations and a series of satisfying punchlines that will send viewers out with a smile. A radical departure from scripter-helmer Amos Kollek’s touchingly downbeat previous films, “Sue” and “Fiona” — both of which also starred Anna Thomson — this technically modest but consistently entertaining pic could do nice niche business with mature urban auds and will benefit from built-in expectations in those Euro territories where Thomson has a cult following.
Soon to turn 35, likable waitress Bella (Thomson) lives alone and works in a diner in downtown Manhattan where she looks after the nutritional needs of her mostly elderly clientele. Regulars include Paul (Robert Modica), a kindly retired man who scans the lonely-hearts ads, and his cronies: ornery Seymour (Victor Argo) and sardonic Graham (Mark Margolis), both of whom are always ready with a discouraging assessment of their respective prospects for romance this late in life. Vikta (Angelica Torn), a Polish prostitute with a stutter, plies her trade with little success outside the diner.
Bella’s well-preserved, well-to-do mother (Judith Roberts) — whose idea of parenting is to phone at regular intervals to criticize Bella’s every move — arranges a date for her daughter with Bruno (Jamie Harris), a divorced cab driver and aspiring novelist. Unbeknownst to Bella or her mom, Bruno has just had two young children — his precocious daughter, Betsie (Loulou Katz), and her infant brother by another father — deposited on his doorstep courtesy of his flaky ex-wife.
The longtime mistress of married Broadway theater director George (Austin Pendleton), who’s been popping by for quickies for a dozen years, Bella craves a steady mate and children. But when her doctor friend Sherry-Lynn (Lonette McKee) warns Bella to tell Bruno she hates children so as not to scare him off as she has other men, Bella complies.
Once Bella meets Bruno, shy Paul meets randy widow Emily (Louise Lasser) and Seymour meets overeducated stripper Wanda (Valerie Geffner), the stage is set for a series of interlocking comic vignettes that offer their share of emotional insights and snappy one-liners en route to a nifty, multi-tiered conclusion. A gifted observer of quirks and foibles, Kollek has written tellingly human roles for a semi-motley crew of Manhattan types who are appealingly brought to life by a well-chosen collection of thesps.
Back in resolutely female mode after being brilliantly cast as a post-operative transsexual in Francois Ozon’s “Water Drops on Burning Rocks,” shapely Thomson’s endearing, little-girl-lost look serves her well as Bella, who seems befuddled but actually has a knack for creating her own luck. That said, some viewers may find Thomson’s striking looks a shade too lived-in to convince as 34-going-on-35, especially opposite Harris, who looks younger but whose character is specifically said to be older than Bella.
Straightforward lensing in summery New York gets the job done. Modified quasi-tango score complements pic’s essentially optimistic, anything-can-happen tone.