Thursday, March 13, 2008
MINI REVIEW: HUMAN NATURE (***1/2)
Completely and utterly absurd and often hilarious, HUMAN NATURE was the first collaboration between writer Charlie Kaufman (BEING JOHN MALKOVICH, ADAPTATION) and director Michel Gondry (ETERNAL SUNSHINE, THE SCIENCE OF SLEEP). They went on to make ETERNAL SUNSHINE a few years later. To call HUMAN NATURE bizarre or self-conscious would be an understatement; while it's coherent and certainly adds up by its conclusion, I dare you to find an odder, more surreal R-rated fantasty like this. The film is basically a sex-farce about the animalistic urges that we as humans suppress on a daily basis, as well as a pointed observation on the role of outward beauty in society and how people judge others on superficial levels. Almost beyond description, the film juggles three story major story strands which result in an extremely heady brew. Rhys Ifans (so scary in ENDURING LOVE, so funny in NOTTING HILL) is a feral man, raised as an ape by his father, who has been living as one with nature for almost his entire exsistence. Patricia Arquette (who still can't shake her role as Alabama in TRUE ROMANCE in my eyes) is a woman suffering from abnormal hair growth all over her body; she's never been with a man and has zero self-esteem. Tim Robbins (wish he'd make more films) is a virginal, up-tight behavorial scientist who is trying to teach a pair of mice table manners; eat with a fork, pull out one another's chair, etc. He thinks that if he can teach table manners to mice, he'll be able to teach table manners to humans. In his world, we've all become slobs with no idea of proper etiquette. Hysterical flashbacks show how his 50's era parents drilled order and OCD-styled tendencies into their son. Robbins and Arquette meet through a mutual friend and sparks fly; Arquette conceals her hairy secret from him. One day while walking in the woods, they come across Ifans, who knocks himself out while trying to run away from them. Robbins, ever the intrepid scientist, sees this as a major opportunity. He takes Ifans back to his laboratory and puts him into a large glass-walled box. Forget the mice; now he has a human patient! How a strange love triangle develops between the three characters will be up for you to discover. If all of this sounds mildly mentally retarded to you, well, I'm not surprised. But coming from genuine artists like Gondry and Kaufman, the film is a whimsical endeavor. And while HUMAN NATURE is a challenging film on the formal level of filmmaking, it's also a stunningly unique, and repeatedly hysterical comedy about humans, and, well, nature. The scenes alone of the mice eating with forks are worth the $4 dvd rental price. And one scene, in which Robbins teaches Ifans how to behave at an opera, will have you howling with laughter (at least I was). HUMAN NATURE isn't as accomplished overall as BEING JOHN MALKOVICH or ETERNAL SUNSHINE, and I still think that THE SCIENCE OF SLEEP is an underrated masterwork of lunacy. However, what a film like HUMAN NATURE does provide is a genuinely creative landscape, filled with images, ideas, and moments that can't really be compared to anything else. It's a fun, strange film that I promise you won't forget.