American Fable is ambitious, maybe too much so sometimes, but there's an intense pleasure in the boldness of the film's style.
Jim Hemphill's "The Trouble with the Truth" is a pleasant surprise that gets better as the movie unfolds. A divorced couple meets for dinner after their daughter announces her engagement. In the course of this very long meal, they discuss everything we would expect from divorcees wrestling with their feelings. Structured as a single long conversation, it has been compared to Louis Malle's "My Dinner With Andre." and Richard Linklater's "Before Sunrise" and "Before Sunset." It is a very small movie with very deep feelings.
Robert (John Shea) is a struggling jazz musician. His is a disappointing career, save for a few highlights that probably hold more meaning for him than for the superstars, like Miles Davis, he shared them with. Emily (Lea Thompson) is a successful novelist, preparing to write her next big book. Now that their sole child from their 14-year marriage, Jenny (Danielle Harris), is getting married, they find the chance and willingness to meet. There is something intimate about the long conversation in a dark, elegant restaurant, inviting us to divulge fruits from our secret gardens. How much do we share about ourselves, in such a public setting, knowing that the woman in the next table might be paying attention?
Their marriage did not end amicably. This film has us then wondering when couples are ready for such meetings. When does the fury of a hostile divorce finally cool off, enabling the couple to meet for a quiet dinner, and perhaps reach closure? As necessary as it might be for today's engaged couples to go through pre-marital counseling, this movie has me thinking that divorcees should go through exit interviews. In this case, it took some ten years for Robert and Emily to be ready. In that decade, they had time to reflect on their marriage, trying to untangle the twisted knots of hidden feelings. They start to confront real answers to those basic questions. What is it that breaks the marriage? Is it the anger? The betrayal? Is it the narcissism? How much influence does luck have, more than effort, in our failures and successes?
Part of the greatness of this film is that it not only avoids any simple answers, but it also takes us into the awkward contradictions and internal dishonesties that help us look at the mirror each day. In contrast to the characters in the "Before Sunrise" films, where I felt we were looking at two people speaking about their generation, these are two very real individuals speaking about themselves. It's a conversation that many of us should have, but never will. Strangely, they do not invite their daughter. Tellingly, they speak for an hour about themselves and each other, but almost never about her.