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Human Nature

New Line // R // December 17, 2002
List Price: $24.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Aaron Beierle | posted December 7, 2002 | E-mail the Author
The Movie:

"Human Nature" is written by Charlie Kaufman, the writer responsible for "Being John Malkovich" and this Winter's "Adaptation". For those who thought "Malkovich" odd, "Human Nature" makes that film look positively normal by comparison. Still, that's not necessarily a bad thing - while "Human Nature" isn't a film without flaws, but it's certainly an original concept that comes from what seems to be a pretty fascinating mind.

The film stars Patricia Arquette as Lila, a young woman who has a little problem: a hormonal imbalance has made her incredibly hairy. When she sees that animals don't judge her, she moves into the woods and becomes a nature writer. Yet, years later she begins to miss the company of men and decides to return to civilization, even though she's written a book that's rather negative towards it.

When she returns to society, she's hooked up with (by her cosmetologist) scientist Nathan Bronfman (Tim Robbins), who teaches table manners to mice. Unfortunately, he's the same way with humans, as any social errors are met with irritation. He sees a perfect opportunity for a test when he and Lila run across Puff (Rhys Ilfans, from "Notting Hill"), an ape-man who Nathan believes he can teach correct manners to. His philosophy: "Remember -- when in doubt, don't ever do what you really want to do." Lila finds herself stuck in the middle ground between Puff's animalistic urges and Nathan's strict and mannered personality, while Puff thinks that if he goes along with the whole manners thing than maybe he can get what he wants.

"Human Nature" certainly will be judged as Kaufman's follow-up to the highly entertaining "Being John Malkovich" and, along those lines, "Nature" feels like something that he'd written before "Malkovich" and sold after. That's not to say that the film doesn't have its strong points - Arquette is excellent and incredibly sympathetic, while Ilfans is very funny as a character who goes from ape to elegant. Miranda Otto's also quite entertaining as Nathan's lab assistant. Robbins, on the other hand, doesn't seem to have a read on his character and plays it with occasional humor, but little or no energy. While the performances are quite good, the characters aren't developed terribly well and it's somewhat difficult to care much about any of them aside from Arquette's. The best supporting performances are from animatronic mice, who are occasionally seen during the film eating with forks.

However, as an exploration of its title subject, the film really never makes strong or fresh enough points - or proceeds with enough focus. The whole thing with Otto's character (she has an affair with Nathan) never really goes anywhere, for example. We see throughout that Puff is testifying before Congress about what happened (all of the characters take part in a flashback structure). As to why he's there, we see one scene late in the movie where Arquette's character essentially says, out of nowhere, "Gee, I think it would be a good idea if you go to Congress." A few of these subplot strings that aren't terribly useful take away from time that could have been better spent developing some of the more interesting fragments of ideas about human nature, as there are ideas buried within that really aren't fully explored very well here. This small band of rather pointless subplots also makes the pace of the 96-minute film drag a bit in places, as well.

While there's the constant air of weirdness about the entire story and characters, the film starts to reach a level where the oddness begins to feel a bit forced. Not all of the film's quirky moments fall flat, though - a song by Patricia Arquette early on that expresses the character's feelings works unexpectedly well.

Overall, "Human Nature" was odd and original enough to keep me interested in where it was headed, but by the end of 96 minutes, it had brought out a few inspired moments, but not enough of a point.


VIDEO: "Human Nature" is presented by New Line Home Entertainment in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen and 1.33:1 full-frame, both available on the same side of a dual-layer disc. Both are also accessable from the main menu. The anamorphic widescreen presentation is another terrific New Line effort, nearly free of faults. Visually, there's rarely a dull moment, as Tim Maurice-Jones ("Snatch") provides interesting and unusual choices with the cinematography. Sharpness and detail were generally superb throughout the show, with no inconsistent soft moments.

Minor faults are scattered throughout the presentation. A couple of slight specks are visible on the print used, while a little bit of edge enhancement is also seen on occasion. Pixelation and other issues are rarely noticed and when they are seen, only trace amounts are spotted.

The film offers a rather muted color palette, but colors still seemed accurately rendered, with no faults. Black level was solid, as well.

SOUND: "Human Nature" is presented by New Line in Dolby Digital 5.1. Most of this film is dialogue-driven, so the focus of the audio is largely in the front channels. Still, there are moments of decent surround use, as some sound effects and ambience occasionally are heard from the rear speakers. Graeme Revell's somewhat Philip Glass-ish score is especially nice and sounds terrific throughout the film, benefiting from occasional surround reinforcement. Dialogue and occasional ambience came through clearly, too.

EXTRAS: Trailers for "Human Nature", "Cherish", "Invisible Circus" and "Storytelling" are included.

Final Thoughts: I was a little disapointed in "Human Nature", as I felt it was a film that could have used a few more rewrites to focus on the ideas within and get rid of a few subplots that were rather unnecessary. As is, the film has fine performances and a few funny parts, but it never really realizes its potential. New Line's DVD edition provides good audio/video quality and little in the way of supplements, which is unfortunate, as I'd like to hear more about what Kaufman and director Michael Gondrey were attempting with this film. Maybe worth a rental for those seeking offbeat fare.

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