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'Human Nature'

'Human Nature' is another bizarre script from Charlie Kaufman

Friday, April 12, 2002

By Barbara Vancheri, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Lila Jute is like a perverted (not to mention naked) version of a 1950s Disney cartoon character. Wandering through the leafy trees in the forest, where birds merrily chirp, the long-haired blonde breaks into wobbly song about how, "Now I'm free, no more cares. I've accepted my millions of hairs."

 
 
'Human Nature'

RATING: R for sexuality, nudity and language

STARRING: Tim Robbins, Patricia Arquette, Rhys Ifans

DIRECTOR: Michel Gondry

WEB SITE: www.humannature
movie.com

CRITIC'S CALL:

   
 

Lila (Patricia Arquette) has a hormonal problem causing excessive hair growth over her entire body -- so much that she once played "Queen Kong." Just as she's ready to slice open her wrist with a razor, a mouse appears on her bathtub, inspiring her to go live among the animals in the forest.

She's one-third of an oddball trio in "Human Nature," directed by Michel Gondry and written by Charlie Kaufman, who scripted the brilliantly bizarre "Being John Malkovich." The other two: Nathan Bronfman (Tim Robbins), a researcher whose parents browbeat him about good manners and proper behavior, and a man named Puff (Rhys Ifans) who was raised in the wild as an ape by his crazy father.

After a stint in the woods, Lila rejoins the world, discovers an electrolysis expert (Rosie Perez) and begins seeing Nathan. While hiking in the woods, the couple discover the man who later will be christened Puff. Nathan decides he would be the ultimate science experiment. Can he civilize a person who cannot even speak and is accustomed to being naked and more feral than anyone on either side of the evolutionary line in "Planet of the Apes"?

Nathan installs Puff in a Lucite cell in his lab and goes about teaching him, with the help of an electrical-shock collar, how to taste wine, read Yeats and comport himself in an opera box. Nathan's advice to Puff: "Remember, when in doubt, don't ever do what you really want to do."

And that suggestion is at the heart of "Human Nature," a story in which everyone is fighting his or hers. The first half or two-thirds are quite zany, with the need to use the right salad fork symbolizing everything that's right and wrong in Nathan's repressed life. As a boy, standing in front of the chimpanzee cage at the zoo, he was told by his adoptive parents to "never wallow in the filth of instinct."

It's only because Arquette and Ifans aren't, so to speak, overexposed that they can be overexposed. Literally. Arquette often ends up in little-seen movies such as "Bringing Out the Dead" or "Ethan Frome" and Welshman Ifans is still a relative newcomer to American audiences. He's probably best known as Hugh Grant's grungy, forgetful flatmate in "Notting Hill."

They give their all to "Human Nature," as does the always malleable Robbins and a supporting cast that includes Mirando Otto, Mary Kay Place and Robert Forster, but the movie cannot maintain its initial level of ingenuity and audacity. A character makes a sacrifice that, while noble, makes no sense and the conclusion is a letdown and perhaps predictable.

That's too bad, because "Human Nature" doesn't spring from the usual movie gene pool.

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