I have to admit, I had really high hopes for this movie. Made by Charlie Kaufman and Michel Gondry, the same writer/director team that worked together on one of my favorite movies ('Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind'), and featuring Rhys Ifans and Miranda Otto, who were so good together in another favorite of mine ('Danny Deckchair'), I figured I had good reason to get excited about this. While I was not completely disappointed, it should be said that 'Human Nature' was something of a letdown for me.
At least it's original. 'Human Nature' is the story of four people who come together through some pretty unique circumstances. Tim Robbins is a scientist trying to teach table manners to mice, as the result of an interesting set of neuroses. Patricia Arquette, cursed since puberty with out-of-control body hair, plays Robbins' girlfriend and eventual assistant. Rhys Ifans is the scruffy man who was raised as an ape in the wild. And rounding out the list is Miranda Otto, the cute French lab assistant who has bigger dreams and naughtier intentions. Nobody in the film, of course, is quite what they seem or what they wish to be, and as the story progresses they all interact in different (often surprising!) ways. At the very least, the story will keep your attention to see what happens next.
Hilary Duff fans, take note...she appears for maybe 30 seconds in 'Human Nature' as a young (teenage) Patricia Arquette, when she first discovers her hair growth. It was a surprising appearance if you're not expecting it (I wasn't), but nothing to get excited about if you're a fan.
'Human Nature' has its funny moments, and its sad moments, and many that are an odd mixture of both. As Robbins and Arquette first find the man-ape Ifans, their ideas of his situation are completely opposite: Robbins wants to re-train the apeman to be a refined and dignified gentleman, while Arquette wants to let him explore his freedom. Otto's French lab assistant's motives aren't ever really clear, except for the idea that she's mostly looking out for herself. The thematic question becomes obvious: which is the 'true' nature of humanity? Is humanity defined by it's ability to rise above the base animal instinct and be civilized, or is it preferable to free the beast within us and live as we wish? The film provides no ready answer to this, but does give you the chance to explore the ideas of it.
There's nothing specific I found disappointing about the movie, just a general feeling that at some point it got so strange that it lost me. Was it Patricia Arquette's oddly-placed nude (well, sort of) singing scene? Was it Miranda Otto's questionable French heritage? Rhys Ifans getting shocked over and over for his natural reaction to seeing a naked woman? Probably, it was the overall effect of all of these things, and others like them. Taken all together, I never felt like the movie found its direction. It's not so much that it lost me...just that it never really found me in the first place.
I like some pretty oddball movies sometimes, but 'Human Nature' might be just a little over the line even for me. It's funny, it's got some good performances, and it's definitely an original. My overall impression in the end, though, is that it's just... strange.
**1/2 out of **** "Human Nature" almost works. It's ambitious and intriguing, but its one fatal flaw is that its reach seems to exceed its grasp; if only in small moments. There are times in the film where I felt content with the final product, but I always had the sense that it was imperfect. It's well-made and competently written by the masterful, observant, legendary Charlie Kaufman; and directed by Michel Gondry, who made his debut feature with this film. It's not the … more
This fascinating comedy questions what we mean when we use words like "nature" and "civilization." Lila (Patricia Arquette,Lost Highway,True Romance), a nature writer who grows hair all over her body, falls in love with Nathan (Tim Robbins,The Player,The Hudsucker Proxy), a scientist attempting to teach table manners to mice. While hiking in the woods, they discover Puff (Rhys Ifans,Notting Hill), a man raised in the wild since childhood, whom Nathan seizes as a test subject for his experiments--and soon these three, along with Nathan's French lab assistant (Miranda Otto) are embroiled in criss-crossed love affairs as they (and the audience) attempt to figure out what it means to be true to one's own nature. ThoughHuman Natureisn't as surefooted asBeing John Malkovich(which was also written by distinctive screenwriter Charlie Kaufman), it has moments of startling comic genius.--Bret Fetzer