The latest movie from the warped mind of Being John Malkovich writer Charlie Kaufman is a romantic comedy, exploring the relationships between four individuals brought together by a series of tentative bonds.
The first character, introduced in a series of flashbacks, is Lila (Patricia Arquette), a hirsute girl who becomes an outcast from society due to her fur-covered body. She decides to live in the forest and become a nature writer, but eventually, she gets horny, so her electrolysist (played by Rosie Perez) sets her up with Dr. Nathan Bronfman, an anal and neurotic psychologist, played by Tim Robbins. Bronfman has his own set of issues after being raised by strict disciplinarian parents, and it's not surprising that he's a 35-year-old virgin, considering that his main area of study is trying to teach lab mice table manners. The two quickly fall in love and on a nature trip, they come across a man who has been raised in the wilds, not by a monkey, but by his human father who thinks that he is a monkey. This monkey man, played by Rhys Ifans, brings out Lila's more animalistic urges, but Nathan thinks that this is the key for taking his research to the next step. The newly dubbed "Puff" allows himself to be conditioned by Nathan, trying to please his newfound "father", by learning and acting more human.
Relative newcomer, Miranda Otto, plays Gabrielle, Nathan's manipulative "French" lab assistant, playing with the doctor's feelings to get whatever she wants from him. When Nathan finds out Lila's hairy secret, it horrifies him, driving him into Gabrielle's arms and creating a bizarre love rectangle between the four.
Kaufman once again gets a chance to see how far he can go with a number of strange premises and try to tie them together into a cohesive story. This time around, he is working with another video director making his first feature length film in Michel Gandry.
Frankly, Human Nature only has one or two jokes-neither as original as a portal into the head of John Malkovich-but they're funny enough to be stretched out and provide humorous fodder for the entire movie. It does take a little while to warm up to these characters and the situation though. Early in the movie, when a naked and hairy Lila starts parading through the forest singing a song that could have come right out of Disney's "Song of the South", you expect a very long and painful movie. But it gets better, and clearly, Rhys Ifans steals the movie, much like he did as Hugh Grant's roommate in Notting Hill. Some of the funnier scenes involve Puff's "training" to be more human, and the set-up just gets more and more outlandish. At one point, he is taught how to behave at the opera with a full opera box set constructed inside his cage. Imagine Gene Wilder and Peter Boyle singing "Puttin' on the Ritz" in Young Frankenstein to get some idea how funny this situation becomes as it progresses. Ifans alternates between being highly cultured and refined and being a horny, sex-crazed animal. This leads to all sorts of insane situations, where he tries but fails to control his urges, at one point humping a waitress in a classy restaurant. Eventually, he goes on a lecture tour, and the animalistic lovemaking of Nathan and Gabrielle in the next room, drives Puff to a lecherous life seeking out prostitutes. This allows Ifans to show off a darker side to the character, and he beautifully captures the pain suffered by a man-animal that can't decide which he would rather be. The characters are similar archetypes to those found in Being John Malkovich, as Tim Robbins plays John Cusack's hapless schmuck, Otto plays the Catherine Keener bitchy other woman role, and Arquette is the frumpy, spurned woman. Most of the second half of the movie shows how the four characters play a series of human mind games, as they try to feed their animal urges.
Tim Robbins plays his character a bit subtler then some of his past roles, but it works for the character. One of the other amusing schticks involves Nathan debunking his own shrink's theories on his problems--surely his chosen field of study couldn't have anything to do with his strict upbringing. His reaction to finding out that his parents have adopted a polite and well-mannered six-year-old is priceless.
It's fairly obvious that Otto is one of Australia's latest Nicole Kidman clones, as she has a similar mix of beauty and range of demeanor, being sweet one moment and sassy the next. While Gabrielle is a fairly minor role compared to the others, her next appearance will be in the second chapter of The Lord of the Rings.
Patricia Arquette is the weakest link in this equation. (Or is she the missing link?) She spends much of the movie naked or semi-clothed, but doing everything possible to be as unattractive and as unsexy as possible. If she isn't covered in hair from literally from head to toe, she is shaving her body hair, or she is bald, wearing a bad wig and acting psychotic. The concept of a hair-covered woman is a creep enough concept without Arquette's over-the-top performance.
The movie isn't as stylish as some of director Michel Gandry's videos, although the forest scenes hark back to one of his earliest works, which irony of ironies, was on Bjork's first video for the song, "Human Behavior".
Overall, Human Nature is a bizarre little movie that gets funnier as it goes along. The laughs come slow at first, but once Rhys Ifans takes center stage, the laughs are regular and hearty. It is a terrific exploration of what it is to be human and what it is to be an animal, and how hard it sometimes is to make the two ends meet. That said, if you're expecting this to be exactly like Being John Malkovich, then you may be disappointed, as this is an animal of another species.
Rating: 7 out of 10
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