Human Nature

Some say that there is a sophomore jinx on all filmmakers. If somebody makes an especially good first film, their second film will not be as good, whether because people were expecting too much or it just wasn't as good. Human Nature is the second film writer Charlie Kaufman, whose first was the wonderfully bizarre Being John Malkovich. The slump is alive and well here, most likely because Kaufman and director Michael Gondry (The Letter) tried too hard to make a movie with the same sort of weirdness as Being John Malkovich. Forced strangeness never works; it has to come naturally. Human Nature is all about the premise. A scientist, who is trying to teach mice table manners, finds a man raised as an ape. He decides to try to 'civilize' the man. There is also a woman with a congenital defect that causes excessive amounts of hair to grow all over her body. With these situations set up, the story has nowhere to go, and meanders along until the end. Kaufman and Gondry even throw in some songs sung by Patricia Arquette, and flashbacks by a dead Tim Robbins and Rhys Ifans in front of a government committee.

Robbins (AntiTrust, High Fidelity) is Nathan Bronfman, the scientist obsessed with manners. This obsession stems from his childhood when sterns parents would punish him for any social indiscretion. Now, he is an old, manners-obsessed virgin, always caught up in his work and ignoring his sultry assistant Gabrielle (Miranda Otto, What Lies Beneath, Kim). This is perfectly fine with Lila Jute (Arquette, Little Nicky, Bringing Out the Dead), who's hair tends to turn away men. Her friend Louise (Rosie Perez, King of the Jungle, Riding in Cars With Boys) sets up Lila and Nathan, and the two get along well because there is essentially nobody else for them. The dynamic changes when they find Puff (Ifans, The Shipping News, Little Nicky). Puff, thinking he is an ape, has no knowledge about language, human interaction, or, more importantly, what is or isn't a faux pas. This is Nathan's dream, to create a work of genteel art from nothing.

Lila feels a sort of kinship with Puff. Because of her hair, she feels like an outcast. She knows what it's like to be alone in the world. She revels in the freedom that Puff has, swinging around trees naked so much so that she eventually sheds all clothing to live in the woods. Her connection to Puff builds a rift between her and Nathan, since his experiments on Puff are the polar opposite of her beliefs. Kaufman has all these interesting ideas that he never develops. Instead, Human Nature prefers to revel in oddness, like how many ways Arquette walk around naked without showing anything, or the various sets that Nathan creates for Puff in Puff's cage. Part of the reason for the detachment from the story is that none of the characters have anything concrete to latch onto. There is no heart to the movie, just strange goings on. Otto is the most amusing cast member, with the role of the horny French assistant. Still, it is a bad kind of weird, one that is more baffling than anything else. Nothing is every that funny, it is just, well, odd. What exactly is Kaufman trying to say?

Mongoose Rates It: Not That Good.
1 hour, 36 minutes, Rated R for sexuality/nudity and language.

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