American Fable is ambitious, maybe too much so sometimes, but there's an intense pleasure in the boldness of the film's style.
Neil LaBute's “Your Friends and Neighbors” is a film about monstrous selfishness--about people whose minds are focused exclusively on their own needs. They use the language of sharing and caring when it suits them, but only to their own ends. Here is the most revealing exchange in the film: Are you, like, a good person? Hey! I'm eating lunch! The movie looks at sexual behavior with a sharp, unforgiving cynicism. And yet it's not really about sex. It's about power, about forcing your will on another, about having what you want when you want it. Sex is only the medium of exchange. LaBute is merciless. His previous film, “In the Company of Men,” was about two men who play a cruel trick on a woman. In this film, the trick is played on all the characters, by the society that raised and surrounded them. They've been emotionally short-changed and will never hear a lot of the notes on the human piano.
LaBute's “Your Friends and Neighbors” is to “In the Company of Men” as Quentin Tarantino's “Pulp Fiction” was to “Reservoir Dogs.” In both cases, the second film reveals the full scope of the talent, and the director, given greater resources, paints what he earlier sketched. In LaBute's world, the characters are deeply wounded and resentful, they are locked onto their own egos, they are like infants for which everything is either me! or mine! Sometimes this can be very funny--for the audience, not for them.
Of course they have fashionable exteriors. They live in good “spaces,” they have good jobs, they eat in trendy restaurants and are well dressed. They look good. They know that. And yet there is some kind of a wall closing them off from one another. Early in the film, the character played by Aaron Eckhart frankly confesses that he is his own favorite sexual partner. A character played by Catherine Keener can't stand it when her partner (Ben Stiller) talks during sex, and later, after sex with Nastassja Kinski, when she's asked, “What did you like the best?” she replies, “I liked the silence best.” Ben Stiller and Keener are a couple; Eckhart and Amy Brenneman are a couple. In addition to Kinski, who works as an artist's assistant, there is another single character, played by Jason Patric. During the course of the movie these people will cheat on and with one another in various ways.
A plot summary, describing who does what and with whom, would be pointless. The underlying truth is that no one cares for or about anybody else very much, and all of the fooling around is just an exercise in selfishness.