You wanna score points with your indie film? Do something new. Show us something different. Take a risk. That’s precisely what director Paul Dale does in his 60-minute feature, Fast Food & Cigarettes. It’s the story of two crooks involved in a hostage situation at a local diner, and director Dale risks everything by presenting a feature with virtually no dialogue. Does the risk pay off? I’m going to trademark this phrase: “The riskiest part of risk is risk.”
Using the diner robbery as the film’s starting point, flashbacks are utilized to provide context for all involved. Our crooks are Jim (Kenny Bellau), who needs money to buy cocaine and his buddy Louis (Jamey Faucheux) tagging along for some extra cash to pay rent. If you remember the TV show Lost, flashbacks are also used to delve into the lives of the hostages. Sally (Manon Pages) is a server at the diner, who just found out she’s pregnant. Bridget (Karista Filopolous) and Lorne (Alex Boutte) are a couple, who needed to get out of the house after a tragic loss. Mike (Creek Wilson) is an ex-con just released from prison.
The film has no dialogue, except for a video news report that describes what happened that fateful evening. The events surround a bag of cocaine that Jim is trying to sell. As Jim and Louis stop off at the diner, Jim runs off to the men’s room to snort a line in the bathroom stall. Impatiently waiting to use the head, a police officer bangs on the door. Scared, the paranoid Jim kills the officer, thus setting into motion the diner hostage situation. Jim is crazy, trigger happy and kills a few customers and workers for disobeying his order or attempting to escape.
“Scared, the paranoid Jim kills the officer, thus setting into motion the diner hostage situation.”
Did I mention there’s no dialogue in this film? What that means is no one really speaks and acts solely through facial expressions and body language. This is not a silent film. We hear ambient noise, gunshots, and the film’s soundtrack and score. I’ll start by saying I do love this idea, especially after seeing countless indie films that packs everything into its dialogue-heavy script. The problem though is the inconsistent use of non-verbal language.
When you establish a gimmick of no dialogue, you have to set rules and follow them. Otherwise, you’re using a gimmick for gimmick sake. For about 80 percent of the film, the no-dialogue rule is followed. What you see a lot is a nod of the head that says follow me or a smile to signify agreement to a proposition and, of course, emotional expressions to convey feeling. But then there is a moment when people are talking, but no sound comes out of their mouths as if their volume was turned down, or characters gesturing in a situation where they could speak, but don’t…simply because it would violate the gimmick.
By the end, I got the sense that director Paul Dale and his co-writer Dylan McGovern just wanted to make a cool film and I have to hand it to them, they sort of pulled it off. Good enough to say, you should check it out. But there’s a lot going on in this film. Starting with a song selection that ranges from 80s techno to country/bluegrass to a spiritual of sorts during a death scene. I like some of the music, but not all of it.
“…Dale risks everything by presenting a feature with virtually no dialogue.”
Transitions are also laced with intriguing imagery. My favorite is the diner grill cooking eggs for breakfast, a flamed broiled burger, and hash browns in a nasty looking fryer. There’s stock footage of police cars and a walk through a medical office, which is either stock or they snuck their cameras into an actual medical office. Sneaky.
There’s also a tone problem. Jim is the coked-out crook and is often played for laughs, while Louis’ plight (along with the rest of the characters) are played seriously. This causes the film to shift back-and-forth from comedy to drama and back again. Also, the only dialogue is a news report broadcast from the not-so-distant future describing the events. The tone of the newscast feels like a film narration as opposed to an actual news report.
The best thing I can say about Fast Food & Cigarettes is there’s a lot going on starting with the no words gimmick, its deliberate choice of music, the multiple storylines, and abundant use of flashbacks. It’s all over the place and for the most parts it works…more often than it fails. This much inconsistency could have easily tipped the scale to failure, and many viewers may feel that way, but it’s a matter of taste I suppose. For me, “A” for effort and the few cool moments that’s worth the recommendation.
Fast Food & Cigarettes (2019) Directed by Paul Dale. Written by Kylan McGovern, Paul Dale. Starring Kenny Bellau, Jamey Faucheux, Manon Pages, Creek Wilson, Karista Filopoulos, Alex Boutte.
6 out of 10 stars