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IN SHORT: Tres disappointing. [Rated R for sexuality/nudity and language. 96 minutes]
Based on our previous experience,we're guessing that writer Charlie Kaufman's Human Nature was written (or at least conceived) before his masterful Being John Malkovich. All the humor of Malkovich is in this piece, other than that the story is a patchwork of pieces that can be pieced together only by an overanalyzing anal retentive film student mind, which we are not. For those of us who attempt to live as reg'lar joes, Human Nature is as much an homage to some great movies of the past as it is a comment on current society.
Lets begin with Freaks, which bookends this piece. Once upon a time the traveling circus had, off to the side of the main tent, what was called the "Freak Show." There, people with abnormal physical conditions, some real and some faked, were paraded in front of the norms for a nickel. The really bad cases cost a quarter, so the history books report. Freak shows were banned long before Cranky started going to see the elephants, but we're well read -- and our parents still remember this stuff.
Lila Jute (Patricia Arquette) is the first of our freaks. She would have sat on the "bearded lady" stool, covered head to toe in pelt of hair fit for an animal. Lila, ashamed and embarrassed by her condition, does her best to cover it as a teen. Her razor blade is her best friend and so forth but, eventually, she passes on the effort and abandons society to live solo in the forest (here she'll do a Snow White musical number). Human nature being what it is, Lila strikes gold as a writer of nature (and survival) books. But, human sexual nature being even stronger the plain ol' variety, Lila returns to the City when her hormones start raging. There she finds a sympathetic "electrologist" (Rosie Perez) who starts Lila on a two year electrolytic plan and fixes her up with a scientist who will have no problem dealing with her "condition" -- for the simple reason that he's got his own kind of condition to contend with.
This scientist, Nathan Bronfman (Tim Robbins), is our mental freak, about as tight as you could imagine. He is not told about Lila's condition she manages to shave unseen, and is inspired by his relationship. This is reflected in his work, "civilizing" the animal-like man-boy who will be named Puff (Rhys Ifans), by his "French" lab assistant Gabrielle (Miranda Otto). Puff, the baby, was kidnapped by his dad, raised in the wild and later discovered by Nathan and Lila while they walked hand in hand through nature's own. Now you've got just about the whole picture.
Simply, Bronfman takes the ape-boy and teaches him which fork to eat salad with -- there's been no better depiction of controlling parents (Robert Forster and Mary Kay Place) than we've seen on screen. This controlling nature manifests in Nathan as he lifts Puff from the depths of the jungle up into the "civilized"world. Puff, smarter than the average bear, already knows what he wants and plays Nathan until he gets it. Human Nature, therefore, is a dissection of how civilized and uncivilized humans come together and how, surprise surprise, they aren't so different that they can't change sides when necessary. We wish the film had been as clear as that description, if indeed that description is correct.
That description spills nothing of the comedy in the piece, all of which is in the sophisticated mode that made Malkovich fly high. Our problem with Human Nature is that the story isn't sufficiently developed -- there are subplots and supporting characters (like Gabrielle) who are murderously underdeveloped -- to make us give a damn, or even allow us the satisfaction of understanding what Kaufman's point is. Again, we were guessing in the 'graph above, aided by a careful perusal of the press notes.
Five years from now we'll be receiving eMail dissertations on this flick by film students or arthouse ravers who've analyzed their DVD's to death. Sorry folks, one shot is all a movie gets and we doubt this on will last long enough on the arthouse circuit to make any kind of significant impression.
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Ten Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Human Nature, he would have paid . . .
Wait a good long time to Rent.
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