A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that most kids probably won't be that interested in this exposé of the fast food industry (which is based on Eric Schlosser's non-fiction best-seller). And just as well. It includes an extremely graphic sequence on the "killing floor" of a meat-packing plant, which shows actual footage of brutal hacking at cattle. Other violence includes the difficult border crossing endured by Mexican workers and a bloody scene of a worker's leg getting caught and cut off in a grinding machine. Some sex scenes between a manager (who trades sex for favors at work) and his female workers show naked body parts. Characters drink, smoke marijuana, and take methamphetamines. Language includes some 20 uses of "f--k" and a variety of other curses.
What's the story?
FAST FOOD NATION follows the victims of the U.S. fast food industry. Don (Greg Kinnear), a marketer for fictionalized restaurant Mickey's, is troubled to learn of the meat packing plant's terrible working conditions and contaminations, but is told by two veterans of the business that he can't stop the corporate suits. The story of meat packing plant workers follows Sylvia (Catalina Sandino Moreno), her sister Coco (Ana Claudia Talancón) and boyfriend Raul (Wilmer Valderrama), who endure a horrible journey across the border to find work. Coco and Raul get jobs at the plant and succumb to drug addiction because their jobs are so miserable. In another part of the picture, the counter kids at the Mickey's find their own resistance. Brian (Paul Dano) spits in the obnoxious customers' orders, but Amber (Ashley Johnson) begins to research the production process and finds new friends among college-aged eco-activists. But for all their energy and creativity in protesting, they still can't slow down the system.
Is it any good?
Unabashedly didactic, the movie creates a fictional narrative from the facts presented in Eric Schlosser's 2001 exposé of McDonald's corrupt practices, also called Fast Food Nation. (A kids' version of the book was published under the title Chew On This.) As it does so, it adopts seemingly meandering structure, much like other films directed by the ever-inventive Richard Linklater. Such a structure makes sense here, as it underlines the connections between the different sorts of people affected by Mickey's corner-cutting policies.
Fast Food Nation doesn't end well, but it does end powerfully. As Sylvia at last gives in and takes a job on the killing floor, she sees for the first time -- and the camera shows explicitly -- what she's been hearing about since she arrived in the U.S. It's a gruesome, unforgettable sight, and she, standing in for the rest of us, is suitably horrified.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the ethics of producing fast food. Why do the producers sacrifice quality to save money? What is a corporation's responsibility in protecting its workers? How honest do corporations that produce food need to be? Should they disclose errors and regularly occurring contaminations? How does this movie show connections between the corruption that runs throughout the company's hierarchy (from floor workers to managers to marketers to executives)? Do you think this drama -- which is based on a non-fiction book -- is more effective than a documentary on the same topic would have been? Why or why not?
- In theaters: November 16, 2006
- On DVD or streaming: March 6, 2007
- Cast: Catalina Sandino Moreno, Greg Kinnear, Wilmer Valderrama
- Director: Richard Linklater
- Studio: Fox Searchlight
- Genre: Drama
- Run time: 106 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- MPAA explanation: disturbing images, strong sexuality, language and drug content.
Our editors recommend
Top advice and articles
Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.