American Fable is ambitious, maybe too much so sometimes, but there's an intense pleasure in the boldness of the film's style.
"Canvas" is a serious film about mental illness and a sentimental heartwarmer, and succeeds in both ways. It tells the story of a 10-year-old whose mother is schizophrenic, and whose father is loyal and loving but stretched almost beyond his endurance.
The portrayal of schizophrenia in the film has been praised by mental health experts as unusually accurate and sympathetic; the story of the boy and his dad is a portrait of love under enormous stress.
Writer-director Joseph Greco says the film, his first feature, was influenced by his own childhood with a schizophrenic mother. Even the father's determination to build a sailboat comes from Greco's own life. His film benefits from persuasive, moving performances from all three leads: Joe Pantoliano as John Marino, a construction worker; Marcia Gay Harden as Mary, his wife, and Devon Gearhart as their young son, Chris. There is also an affecting performance by Sophia Bairley as Dawn, a schoolmate who becomes Chris's friend and confidant.
As the film opens, Mary is just a little too demonstrative in her love for Chris, who she possibly hasn't seen for awhile. That night Chris is awakened by flashing blue lights through the window; his mother has had a panic attack and his father and the police are bringing her back to the house. She is under medication, which doesn't seem to be working, and on another night, when she runs wild through a rainstorm, the police handcuff her "for her own safety," and she is committed to an asylum.