American Fable is ambitious, maybe too much so sometimes, but there's an intense pleasure in the boldness of the film's style.
The idea is not exactly new: The story of a ballet is echoed by the real lives of the people who are dancing in it. But Herbert Ross's "Dancers" easily is the most dim-witted recent example of the genre, using "Giselle" to so little effect that perhaps the only way to save this movie would have been to substitute "Peter and the Wolf."
See if any of this sounds familiar. Mikhail Baryshnikov plays Tony, the greatest male dancer of his age. While rehearsing for a film version of "Giselle" in Italy, he finds himself overtaken by a vague discontent. Things are just not right. Then, one day across a crowded restaurant, he spies the newest member of his company, a 17-year-old American teenager with big eyes and long hair. In a grand gesture, he sends her an entire ice cream cake, and their romance is under way.
So far, the story's not implausible. I know a lot of people who would go to bed for an ice cream cake. What is unacceptable about the movie is its refusal to supply the teenager (Julie Kent) with any human qualities other than hero worship and to assume that she would fall in love with Baryshnikov just because he is a famous man and he wants her to. Doesn't decency require them to at least pretend to have something in common?
The movie is so ineptly structured that maybe it doesn't even matter. The Baryshnikov character lays his usual line on her, something about a tall white tree he saw in his childhood, and meanwhile rehearsals for "Giselle" continue. But this is not even an interesting movie about show business.