Fast Food, Fast Women

Anna Thomson, the flighty 35-year-old heroine of Amos Kollek's offbeat romantic comedy Fast Food, Fast Women, lies down face up in the middle of a New York City crosswalk. When an old eight-cylinder behemoth barrels around the corner and screeches to a halt in front of her, the driver rushes over and demands an explanation. Thomson replies, "I don't know. I just wanted to put some excitement in my Sunday morning." In Kollek's determinedly offbeat universe, which he claims to cobble together through free association, such bizarre statements are meant to be taken at face value. If Kollek himself were asked why the scene exists, his answer would probably be no different than Thomson's: Anything can happen in his wispy, cosmically connected vision of Manhattan, often for no other reason than to satisfy his characters' whimsical desires. For better or worse, Fast Food, Fast Women has its head in the clouds, drifting along with an affected aimlessness that can seem cloying and silly one minute, disarmingly sweet and generous-hearted the next. Looks and age may be important in the real world, but with Kollek playing matchmaker, love knows no boundaries. Approaching her middle years as a hard-luck waitress at an old-fashioned tin diner, Thomson fools herself into believing she's "engaged" to an aging, long-married theater director (Austin Pendleton) who visits her mouse-ridden apartment for the occasional quickie. Her nosy mother sets her up with dashing Jamie Harris, a would-be writer who has recently given up his womanizing ways to take care of his ex-wife's two children. Meanwhile, one of Thomson's regular customers, a sad-eyed retiree played by Robert Modica, takes a chance on a personal ad and winds up falling for Louise Lasser, a widow battling her anxieties about spending the rest of her life alone. The two affairs intersect in surprising and unlikely ways, but wild contrivances are a large part of the charm of Fast Food, Fast Women, which plays like a giant wish-fulfillment fantasy for ordinary, middle-aged lonelyhearts. In a typically outrageous subplot, one of Modica's dining buddies (Victor Argo) sweet-talks a young peep-show stripper (with a degree in Jungian psychology, no less) into going out for a cup of tea. Though frequently compared to Woody Allen or Hal Hartley, Kollek has more in common with Alan Rudolph (Choose Me, Afterglow), who also takes pleasure in aligning the stars for colorful eccentrics and grand flakiness. Fast Food, Fast Women only works about half the time, but in a period when romantic comedies deal exclusively with the younger set, it's refreshing and poignant to see older couples grapple with the diminishing prospects of middle age and beyond. Kollek's characters should be grateful their fate is in his hands.

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