American Fable is ambitious, maybe too much so sometimes, but there's an intense pleasure in the boldness of the film's style.
Al Pacino, playwright, is the author in "Author! Author!" and his play is opening on Broadway in a few weeks. It needs a better second act. But Pacino is too bothered with a domestic crisis to write one. His wife is bored and wants to leave, he has an affair with his leading lady, but she doesn't like being tied down by his kids; you get the idea. So it's only once in a while that Pacino finds time to sit down at his typewriter and write that second act.
As he does so, we are brought face to face with one of the major problems with this movie. Is the movie really about a playwright? Or is "playwright" just the title given to a character who could just as easily be anything else, if the prop department supplied different tools? The movie clearly takes the second option. That's why we never learn what the play is about, what the trouble is with the second act, or how Pacino hopes to fix it. We're just supposed to fall for the old dodge where the harried but brilliant author pounds away at his typewriter in between fights with his wife and promises to his girlfriend.
That unwillingness to really be about its characters is fatal to "Author! Author!" Here's a movie filled with references to New York and its various glamorous lifestyles (there are references to Norman Mailer, Arthur Miller, Elaine's restaurant, etc.), but the inspiration for this movie is pure hayseed. It comes out of TV sitcoms about rambunctious families, and if it has a cinematic predecessor. it's probably "Yours, Mine and Ours," a superior 1968 comedy starring Lucille Ball and Henry Fonda.
"Author! Author!" is never even able to establish a consistent attitude toward its characters. It veers uneasily between slapstick and pathos, between heart-rending family conferences and a ridiculous final scene that has Al Pacino and his kids barricaded on the roof of their townhouse while the cops stand in the street shouting ultimatums lifted from old Pat O'Brien movies.