American Fable is ambitious, maybe too much so sometimes, but there's an intense pleasure in the boldness of the film's style.
"Francine" is an example of the kind of film I'm likely to respond strongly to, while at the same time knowing many readers will disagree. The more I describe it, the less attractive it may seem. Gene Siskel often told me lots of his favorite films were about how realistic characters live their lives. Yes.
Here is a portrait of a damaged, limited woman who is probably mentally ill, although that isn't obvious to everyone she meets. She's one of those people we read about, whose home is overrun by cats and dogs. You don't know that when you meet her working at a discount store, or a stable, or a pet shop. A nice guy even asks her out on a date.
Melissa Leo's sympathetic performance shows her as a loner. As the movie opens, she's being released from prison, her crime and sentence left unmentioned. She moves into a tiny house in a semi-rural area, wanders outside and comes across a scrubby punk band performing at deafening volume at the edge of a parking lot for perhaps two dozen bored teenagers. She begins to dance along, working herself into a frenzy, then abruptly walks away.
She finds a stray cat, feeds it, takes it in. She takes the first of a series of minimum-wage jobs. She finds it difficult to speak audibly or look customers in the eye. She's hired by Ned (Keith Leonard), a recovering alcoholic, to help him as a stable hand. As she gently brushes polo ponies, we notice how much she loves and even pities animals; she seems to identify with them, offering them the consolation she requires.