American Fable is ambitious, maybe too much so sometimes, but there's an intense pleasure in the boldness of the film's style.
Roger is an advertising executive who explains that his technique is to make consumers feel miserable, so they can restore their happiness by buying the sponsor's product. In his private life, Roger is the product, trying to make women feel miserable about themselves and then offering himself as the cure. Roger is an optimist who keeps on talking, just as if his approach works.
As "Roger Dodger" opens, Roger (Campbell Scott) has just been dumped by his lover, Joyce (Isabella Rossellini), who is also his boss, and makes him feel miserable with admirable economy of speech: "I am your boss. You work for me. I have explained to you that I do not wish to see you socially any longer. Find a way to deal with it." Roger can't quite believe her. Indeed, he attends a party at her house that he has specifically not been invited to. He's an optimist in the face of setbacks, a con man who has conned himself.
Into his office and life one day walks his nephew Nick (Jesse Eisenberg), who is 16. Roger isn't on speaking terms with Nick's mother, but Nick is another matter, a young man who asks for guidance that Roger feels himself uniquely equipped to provide. Nick knows little of women and wants advice, and Roger starts with theory and then takes Nick nightclub-hopping so they can work on the practice. During one incredibly lucky evening, they meet Andrea and Sophie (Elizabeth Berkley and Jennifer Beals), who are intrigued by Nick's innocence, charmed by his honesty, and delighted by his wit. The kid's naivete acts like a mirror in which they can study their own attitudes. Roger the coach finds himself on the sidelines.
The movie, written and directed by Dylan Kidd, depends on its dialogue, and like a film by David Mamet or Neil LaBute has characters who use speech like an instrument. The screenplay would be entertaining just to read, as so very few are. Scott, who usually plays more conventional roles, emerges here as acid and sardonic, with a Shavian turn to his observations, and although his advice is not very useful, it is entertaining.
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