American Fable is ambitious, maybe too much so sometimes, but there's an intense pleasure in the boldness of the film's style.
This is the story of high school student Carson Phillips (Chris Colfer, from the television show Glee, who also wrote the screenplay). As the film opens, he is killed by a bolt of lightning. From there, it flashes back as Carson recounts his elaborate scheme to gain admission to Northwestern University. He has ambitions to fulfill as a writer, editor and diplomat. And he yearns to break free from the confines of Clover (population 9,000), a colorful, confused suburban trap that seems to let no one escape.
Carson's school has all those familiar types we recognize from high school movies (and high schools), from "The Breakfast Club" to "10 Things I Hate About You." There's the innocent nerd, the arrogant cheerleader, the dumb athlete, the glum goth, the addled drug addict and the closeted stereotypical gay couple. Carson views them as stepping stones to fulfill his plan for college acceptence -- by blackmailing them into writing for his new literary magazine.
His home life features the usual suburban dysfunction, including that fog of denial that haunts unhappy movies like Sam Mendes' "Revolutionary Road" (2008). Here, however, we smirk at the characters' cluelessness. They are deeply unhappy, but would rather live a shallow life of television talk shows than face their demons.
Carson has an alcoholic, over-medicated mother (Allison Janney from TV's The West Wing) who keeps reminding him that she wished she had aborted him. His absentee father (Dermot Mulroney) is little more than a memory who pops up in the occasional phone call. His nursing home resident grandmother doesn't even recognize him as she tells him precious memories of her beloved grandson.