American Fable is ambitious, maybe too much so sometimes, but there's an intense pleasure in the boldness of the film's style.
Woody Allen's new comedy "Mighty Aphrodite" opens with a Greek chorus, standing in an ancient amphitheater and uttering dire warnings about those who would tempt fate. Indeed one of the tempters is Woody Allen himself, whose recent life has sometimes seemed drawn from Greek tragedy, especially as it applies to those who would kill their wives and marry their daughters - or, because we are more prudent in the 20th century, divorce their wives and date their adopted daughters.
That Allen would venture into this subject matter seems fraught with risk. But "Mighty Aphrodite" quickly turns into safer waters and develops into a sunny comedy about tawdry people. Allen plays a New York sportswriter named Lenny, unhappily married to a gallery owner (Helena Bonham Carter), who thinks their marriage might be saved if they adopt a child. Lenny is adamantly opposed to adoption, but soon finds himself cooing over an infant son named Max.
Max grows up smart. In a scene where he's teaching the kid to shoot baskets, Lenny asks him what he wants to be when he grows up. "An interior decorator," he says. "Only kidding." Soon Lenny becomes convinced that the boy's birth parents must be brilliant. As his marriage collapses and his wife embarks on an unhappy affair, Lenny begins an obsessive search to track down Max's origins, and eventually discovers that the boy's mother is a hooker and sometime porno starlet with a lot of names, one of them Linda (Mira Sorvino).
At least it isn't complicated to meet a hooker. Lenny picks up the phone and is soon visiting a blond with a high-pitched voice, who towers over him as she leads the way into an apartment that seems to have been decorated out of a sex novelty shop (even the tropical fish have their own phallic bubbler). Sorvino's performance in this role is intriguing because, while never compromising Linda's exaggerated mannerisms, she subtly grows more sympathetic, until by the end we care for her, even though we still can't believe our eyes, or ears.