Some films have a complex message, some don’t. Some films have a complex structure and others don’t. As the film about to be discussed was written by Charlie Kaufman (“Being John Malkovich”), it won’t be easy to describe. It will, however, be easy to explain.
“Human Nature” begins near the end as three people look back and tell the story of their lives. Lila (Patricia Arquette) reveals her tale from a police interrogation room. Puff (Rhys Ifans) speaks in front of a senate committee. The unfortunate Nathan (Tim Robbins) reviews his fate alone in a room from somewhere in the afterlife with a bullet-hole in his forehead.
Lila’s story begins with the discovery of a genetic defect where from puberty she begins to grow body hair, lots of body hair. Being a sensitive girl, she turns to the non-judgment of the nature, moves into the forest, and supports herself by writing goofy, spiritual novels. Still, she’s lonely.
Nathan spent his childhood being tortured by his mother and her anal obsession with table manners. Nathan spends his adulthood being tortured by his small penis and torturing lab mice (under a government grant) until they too learn table manners. Strangely, he is also quite lonely.
Puff’s tale began with his late father who once thought he was an ape. For a while he seemed “cured” and gained some pants, employment, a wife, and a newborn son. Unfortunately, the madness of the Kennedy assassination drove him over the edge. He then stripped himself of his job, his wife, and his pants and ran off to live out his days in the forest with the infant Puff to raise him as an ape. With his father long gone, Puff too became quite lonely.
Desperate for companionship, Lila returns to the city and takes to shaving off her body hair. Set up on a blind date, Lila and Nathan eventually hook up, though she never quite gets around to informing her about her little “problem”. While camping one weekend, the pair then stumbles upon Puff. Nathan then hatches the idea of using the electroshock methods employed on his long-suffering mice to transform the ape-man into a respectable member of society. Very poor judgment, irony, slapstick, questionable French accents, and a bullet to the head ensue.
You know, when you see a movie as complex, difficult, and wonderful as “Being John Malkovich”, you marvel how it was ever able to get made. Writing it is the first hurdle, and that accomplishment belongs to the much heralded but never previously produced Charlie Kaufman. Usually, these kinds of things are botched in the execution, but first-time feature director Spike Jonze handled it with just the right sense of delicate melancholy in what could have been mishandled as some kind of arthouse feakout, or worse, as an imitation of a Farrelly Brothers movie.
This now brings us around to the execution of Kaufman’s second produced effort (and the first of three to be released in the space of a year), “Human Nature.” Mmmmmm…., no. This could have been a contender, but it’s just not happening. In his feature debut music video director Michæl Gondry seems to have chosen to employ the same funny/sad light touch that his predecessor used with “Malkovich.” Too bad this wasn’t really the way to go. You see, “Malkovich” was all about tone and a complicated mix of human desires. “Human Nature” is really only about one such desire, the need to get laid, and the lengths different characters will go to get laid. With a far more basic message, broader brushstrokes would have been far more effective. On average, the characters required that a little more brutality be directed their way. Either a far more brutal sense of irony or a harsher brand of comedy would have carried the script much further than we see here. What was needed was either a Stanley Kubrick, or, well, the Farrelly Brothers. Instead we get warmed over Spike Jonze. Still, a little watered down Spike Jonze has to be entertaining some of the time, so this isn’t a total loss. “Human Nature” just could have been so much more.