American Fable is ambitious, maybe too much so sometimes, but there's an intense pleasure in the boldness of the film's style.
If you could take all of the different combinations of love won and love lost from many different periods in your life and join them all together for a weekend in the country, the weekend might turn out a little like "September," the new film by Woody Allen. Some of the guests at your party might be older or younger than you are, or smarter or more vulnerable, or of a different sex. But when you looked closely at their romantic strivings, you would recognize yourself, because there are, after all, only so many ways to be in love with the wrong person at the wrong time.
There are six major characters in the movie, each and every one of them hungry to be loved and taken care of. And everyone in the movie loves somebody - but usually not the person who loves them. The entire weekend comes down to a series of little emotional tangos, in which each character moves restlessly from room to room, trying to arrange to be alone with the object of their love - and away from the person obsessed with them.
The dominant person in the household is Diane, the middle-age but still charismatic movie star. Played by Elaine Stritch, she is a woman who has lived a great deal, compromised too often, and become what is known as a "survivor," which is to say, a person you are surprised is still functioning. She has been married several times, currently to Lloyd (Jack Warden), an industrialist who is no doubt proud to have won this woman who was a sex symbol when they were both much younger. (By the same token, if Marilyn Monroe were still alive today, which of us over 40 would not still feel some nostalgic erotic stirring if we found ourselves alone in the room with her?)
Diane has come out to the family's country place to join her 40-ish daughter, Lane (Mia Farrow), who has been living there for some time, recovering from a breakdown. For several months, Lane's close companion has been Howard (Denholm Elliott), the quiet, self-effacing neighbor. Lane has allowed Howard to grow close to her, but actually she feels passion only for Peter (Sam Waterston), the writer who has taken a place nearby for the summer. Sam has rather encouraged her. But this weekend, Lane has invited Stephanie (Dianne Wiest), her closest friend, to the country. And now Sam has conceived an enormous passion for Stephanie.