Film Review: American Fable

A potentially interesting story, but ultimately a tedious and pretentious film.
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The portentous title American Fable is a tip-off that the viewer will be treated to some “deep thoughts” in this dull, plodding and dimly shot film. It’s not always clear who’s who or what’s happening, and the fantastical imagery interspersed throughout evoking the heroine’s unconscious ramblings is a further irritant.

Ironically enough, the bare-bones narrative isn’t half bad and could have made for a suspenseful, character-driven feature if only writer-director Anne Hamilton—in her first time at bat—had just told the story instead of gussying it up with lofty trappings designed to underscore something hugely dark about the small farmer’s plight in Reagan’s America.

Early on in the film, our 40th President is seen speaking on TV as Midwestern farmer Abe (Kip Pardue) and his pregnant wife Sarah (Marci Miller) are facing financial disaster and struggling to keep their already disintegrating family from unraveling any further.

Their teenage son (Gavin MacIntosh) is unaccountably brutal, while their pre-teen daughter Gitty (Peyton Kennedy) is a dreamy, isolated kid whose greatest happiness is derived from her pet chicken, bicycle riding, and storytelling (those created by others as well as her own chimerical narratives). The unfolding events are recounted through her limited point of view. Kennedy pulls off a difficult role. None of the acting can be faulted.

Before the defining episode occurs—and it takes far too long to get to it—we learn that there have been more than a few suicides in the community. Meanwhile, an excessively hearty policewoman (Rusty Schwimmer), who may or may not be retired, has surfaced, as has a sinister vixen (Zuleikha Robinson) who may or may not be having an affair with Abe. She has a very important secret everyone must keep. Gitty envisions her—and later herself—as a grotesque mythological creature riding a horse (shades of Guillermo de Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth).

It’s all very scary and mysterious, especially when Gitty encounters Jonathan (Richard Schiff), a wounded middle-aged man entrapped in a silo on the family farm. He could easily be another figment of her imagination, though slowly Gitty realizes that he is a real human being who has been kidnapped and that her family has played a role in it. Gitty befriends him; indeed, they establish a lovely rapport before she is forced to divorce herself from her fairytale world and make a life-altering adult choice.

Hamilton has explained that Abe and Sarah are blighted Midwesterners (Do their Biblical names mean something, and if so what?) while Jonathan is the stand-in for an East Coast exploiter who has no sympathy for farm life. Is he an evil financier and in some way responsible for the farmer’s condition? It’s never spelled out—and that’s a problem—but one assumes so. We’re also never told what the kidnapping is intended to do (another failing). But the biggest problem is that Jonathan is far more simpatico than anyone in Gitty’s family, from her cold and emotionally withholding mom to her predatory (downright criminal) brother.

The best thing that could happen to Gitty is for Jonathan to adopt her and take her to live with him on the nasty East Coast. In all fairness, her father’s an okay guy. Maybe he could come too.

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