American Fable is ambitious, maybe too much so sometimes, but there's an intense pleasure in the boldness of the film's style.
It's not fun following teenage kid Clark (Ben Konigsberg) around for an hour and a half. Clark is the lead character in Noah Pritzker's debut feature "Quitters" (Pritzker co-wrote the script with Ben Tarnoff), and he is manipulative, passive-aggressive, and a user with zero sense of humor. Teenagers are often annoying, of course. And teenage angst and peer pressure and the newness of some experiences make them all act a little nuts. But Clark is a horse of a different color. Konigsberg, to his credit, does not soft-pedal any of Clark's personality flaws, a remarkable accomplishment for such a young actor. But, still, "Quitters" is a challenging and joyless experience. The title of the film is accurate. Everyone here quits: on themselves, on situations, doing drugs, staying in relationships. Considering his selfish parents, it's no wonder Clark has made an art out of bailing (often with great cruelty) when things get tough.
Clark's mother (Mira Sorvino) is in rehab for prescription-pill addiction. ("Technically, your mother's not an addict. She has a 'dependency,'", says Clark's weak stoner dad, played by Greg Germann). Clark has a crush on a classmate named Etta (Kara Hayward), and when she rebuffs his advances, he responds by dropping her as a friend via vicious condescending email, and then spreading rumors around school that she struggles with depression. Clark cannot stand his father, whom he treats with contemptuous superiority. Clark decides to quit his own awful family and become part of another.
Crashing in the home of friend Natalia (Morgan Turner), he worms his way into the family's routines and, in a particularly bleak scene, into Natalia's bed. Saffron Burrows and Scott Lawrence play the parents who welcome Clark into their home without once calling Clark's dad to see if it's okay. (It calls to mind that funny line from "While You Were Sleeping": “Lucy, you are born into a family. You do not join them like the Marines.”)
To be fair, "Quitters" does not plead with us to sympathize with Clark. Pritzker and Tarnoff present him in a very straightforward way, showing us what he does, how he does it and his emotional brutality. "Quitters" also does not turn him into a case study (his mother has a "dependency" and his dad's a loser, and that's why he's this way!) Clark is smart, but he is also lazy. He goes for what he wants, whether it's a condom he steals out of Natalia's mom's drawer, or challenging his teacher Mr. Becker (Kieran Culkin) to give him a better grade.