American Fable is ambitious, maybe too much so sometimes, but there's an intense pleasure in the boldness of the film's style.
We open on a gathering of the Scrappers Club, four women around a kitchen table pasting things into scrapbooks. The moment we hear one of them talking, we're not too surprised to learn that her name is Blanche Gunderson. Her sister Marge, the trooper, must have been the ambitious one. Not that Blanche isn't, just that she's relentlessly nice.
So are most of the folks in the town of New Ulm, Minn., which is so cold in the winter that scrapping warms you up. (Old Ulm, I know you were wondering, is the burg on the Danube where Einstein was born.) To this frigid Minnesota outpost flies Lucy Hill, a high-powered exec from Miami, whose mission is to downsize the local food products plant more or less out of existence.
Lucy is the cute-as-a-button Renee Zellweger, so we know she's only kidding when she pretends to be a heartless (rhymes-with-witch) who hammers around on her stiletto heels and won't smile. That doesn't scare Blanche (Siobhan Fallon Hogan), Lucy's assistant, who invites her home for dinner ("We're only havin' meat loaf"). So uncannily does her accent resemble Marge in "Fargo" that I was trying to remember where I had heard it recently, doncha know?
The extra man at Blanche's table turns out to be Ted Mitchell (Harry Connick Jr.), the widowed dad of a 13-year-old girl, who Blanche obviously thinks would be a great match for Lucy. That Ted, the union guy at the plant Lucy plans to downsize, is perhaps not a perfect match never even occurs to Blanche, who like all Minnesotans and most Dakotans is just plain nice. I mean that. I've been to Fargo. You should go sometime.