American Fable is ambitious, maybe too much so sometimes, but there's an intense pleasure in the boldness of the film's style.
Is human life entirely based on sex, or is that only what it seems like on cable television? "Human Nature," a comedy written and produced by the writer and director who made us the great gift of "Being John Malkovich," is a study of three characters in war against their sexual natures.
Lila (Patricia Arquette) fled to the woods at the age of 20, after hair entirely covered her body. She becomes a famous reclusive nature writer, a very hairy Annie Dillard, but finally returns to civilization because she's so horny. Puff (Rhys Ifans) is a man who was raised as an ape, thinks he's an ape, and is cheerfully eager on all occasions to act out an ape's sexual desires. And Nathan (Tim Robbins) was a boy raised by parents so strict that his entire sexual drive was sublimated into the desire to train others as mercilessly as he was trained.
With these three characters as subjects for investigation, "Human Nature" asks if there is a happy medium between natural impulses and the inhibitions of civilization--or if it is true, as Nathan instructs Puff, "When in doubt, don't ever do what you really want to do." The movie involves these three in a menage a trois that is (as you can imagine) very complicated, and just in order to be comprehensive in its study of human sexual behavior, throws in a cute French lab assistant (Miranda Otto).
None of which gives you the slightest idea of the movie's screwball charm. The writer, Charlie Kaufman, must be one madcap kinda guy. I imagine him seeming to wear a funny hat even when he's not. His inventions here lead us down strange comic byways, including Disneyesque song-and-dance numbers in which the hairy Arquette dances nude with the cute little animals of the forest. (Her hair, like Salome's veil, prevents us from seeing quite what we think we're seeing, but the MPAA's eyeballs must have been popping out under the strain.) Early scenes show poor Nathan as a boy, at the dinner table with his parents (Robert Forster and Mary Kay Place), where every meal involves as much cutlery as a diplomatic feast, and using the wrong fork gets the child sent to his room without eating. As an adult, Nathan dedicates his life to training white mice to eat with the right silver, after the male mouse politely pulls out the female mouse's chair for her.