Human Nature

on April 12, 2002 by Lael Loewenstein
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   There's no question that Charlie Kaufman has one of the most brilliant and original minds among screenwriters working today. But finding a vehicle, a cast and a creative team to give cinematic life to his audacious vision, as was the fortuitous case with "Being John Malkovich," is no easy proposition. Though it's intermittently ingenious and richly inflected with Kaufman's characteristic wit and unconventional wisdom, "Human Nature" falls short of the standard set by his earlier work, a fact that feels especially frustrating given the nature of the talent involved.

   Taking the helm from "Malkovich" director Spike Jonze, who's a producer on this project, French commercial director and music video whiz Michel Gondry directs "Human Nature" in a style that feels oddly suppressed. The story hinges on Lila (Patricia Arquette), a lovely but abnormally hirsute nature writer. Having spent years in self-imposed exile in the woods rather than face horrified reactions to her hormonal condition, Lila returns to civilization and begins electrolysis at the hands of the sympathetic Louise (Rosie Perez). Louise sets Lila up with Nathan (Tim Robbins), a repressed behavioral scientist obsessed with his mission to teach table manners to mice. Lila and Nathan are soon living together, but he knows nothing of her condition as she regularly shaves in secret.

   Hiking in the forest together, Lila and Nathan discover a feral man (Rhys Ifans), whom they capture and bring back to Nathan's lab despite Lila's objections. There the man, isolated a plastic cell and dubbed Puff, is schooled in the basic mannerisms of civilized humans. As Puff is readied for his entry into civilization, however, the real question is whether his most primal instinct--his untethered sex drive--can remain under control.

   In the end, "Human Nature" lumbers along like a joke that's played itself out. Still, it does manage to offer commentary on key themes, including the near impossibility of being true to one's nature in society and the tendency to judge others with haste and superficiality. When it makes those points astutely, it does so with humor and efficacy--which, sadly, is not often enough. Starring Tim Robbins, Patricia Arquette, Miranda Otto and Rhys Ifans. Directed by Michel Gondry. Written by Charlie Kaufman. Produced by Anthony Bregman, Ted Hope, Spike Jonze and Charlie Kaufman. A Fine Line release. Comedy. Not yet rated. Running time: 96 min

Tags: Tim Robbins, Patricia Arquette, Miranda Otto and Rhys Ifans, Directed by Michel Gondry, Written by Charlie Kaufman, Produced by Anthony Bregman, Ted Hope, Spike Jonze and Charlie Kaufman, Fine Line
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