Human Nature Movie Review

If nothing else, writer Charlie Kaufman has created a style of comedy all his own. He is one of the very few screenwriters able to distinctly stamp his unmistakable personality on a film. Much like his previous Being John Malkovich, Kaufman again has his script brought to the big screen by a music video/commercial director. This time French helmer Michel Gondry is behind the camera, and the result is every bit as uniquely offbeat and original as one might expect. The result being that Human Nature may be an acquired taste, but anyone who welcomes a dash of the avant-garde fused with their humor should take pleasure in this crazed, joyous romp of a film.

Patricia Arquette plays Lila, a best-selling environmental book author, who suffers from a hormonal disorder that causes her to sport an overabundance of body hair. Prior to finding success, the young woman learned to use the affliction as a source of strength and was able to get in touch with her true self while living in the wilderness for several years. Upon Lila's return to human civilization, she begins seeing an electrolysist named Louise (Rosie Perez) who helps her deal with the excess hair. She also introduces Lila to a brilliant, though maladjusted, behavioral scientist Nathan (Tim Robbins). A relationship soon blossoms.

The unlikely couple share a fascination with nature, but from opposite perspectives. While Lila has wholeheartedly explored her animal instincts, Nathan conducts experiments (such as teaching mice table manners) designed to repress these bestial tendencies. Lila covertly shaves her body hair every day in order to remain in Nathan's good graces. Things become irrevocably complicated when they stumble across a feral man (Rhys Ifans) while on a hike in the woods. Nathan imprisons the man, whom he names Puff, in his lab and makes it his mission to civilize this beast, introducing him to the finer things in life such as poetry and opera. Further confusing the situation is the torrid affair between Nathan and his sexy French assistant Gabrielle (Miranda Otto).

Nathan eventually discovers Lila's secret and the woman, desperate to maintain their relationship, throws her morals out the window and agrees to help in the quest to humanize Puff. Puff makes remarkable progress, but when Lila learns of Nathan's infidelity, the lives of all involved are suddenly turned upside down.

On paper, marrying Kaufman's left-field humor with the sensibility of a director schooled in the hyper stylized world of music videos seems like a recipe for disaster. Gondry thankfully realizes that what benefits Kaufman's script most is a bit of restraint, and he wisely prevents the colorful material from becoming purely inane. Given the absurd, somewhat esoteric, elements of the script, the wrong director could easily have turned this into witless nonsense. I shudder to think about the damage that would ensue if Kaufman's screenplays were ever placed in the hands of the latest studio assembly-line comedy hack.

The actors all perform with enough subtlety to heighten the laugh factor, although a few of the gags (like the depiction of Puff's initial insatiable sexual appetite) become repetitive. Ultimately, the film resonates with such a likeable and innovative spirit that its missteps are easily overlooked. It is largely able to avoid specific categorization, which is rare praise for any writer or filmmaker.

Kaufman definitely operates in his own alternate world, but with Human Nature he again proves that his boundless comic universe is a place where we're fortunate to be invited.

Hey, Yoda!


Human Nature Rating

" Good "

Rating: R, 2001


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