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Human Nature
Review by Paul McLeary

Screenwriter Charlie Kaufman is back, but should we care? Like his last film, (Being John Malcovich), he's managed to make an interesting, though emotionally flat and unengaging film that seems like it wants to make a point, but never figures out what that point might be. While "Malcovich" was written well enough and is admittedly one of the more original scripts to be made by a studio recently, it still seemed somehow constrained. Time and again, just as the film appeared primed to take off in some magic realist direction, it always stopped short of its promised insanity. Sure, a hole in an office wall (on the 7th and a half floor) led straight into Malcovich's brain, and people lined up for hours for a glimpse of life from his eyes - that's funny and original, but Kaufman, and director Spike Jonze stopped trying after that. The movie ended up as a somewhat interesting send-up of our celebrity obsessed culture, but was too lazy to try and dig deeper or otherwise engage the audience in a dialogue pertaining to anything beyond the superficialities of the idea. Good enough for some light entertainment, but in the end it was little more than a self-indulgent exercise.

If only Human Nature could even boast of some of these qualities, it would be a much better film. The film actually starts out strong, cutting between three different stories - Puff (Rhys Ifans) is testifying before what appears to be a Congressional panel, describing his liaison with Lila, (Patricia Arquette) an abnormally hairy woman who has chosen a life in the woods, and a murder. Their victim, Dr. Nathan Bronfman (Tim Robbins), was Lila's lover and Puff's rehabilitator. Puff, you see, was raised in the woods by his father, who was convinced that he was an ape. Accordingly, he raised Puff as an ape. Bronfman and Lila stumble on Puff one day as they're hiking in the woods, and Bronfman takes him back to his laboratory where his experiments teaching table manners to mice led him to try to civilize Puff, squelching his sexuality with electroshock treatments and turning him into a civilized, tweed-jacket wearing man of culture. The film briefly becomes reminiscent of Mel Brooks' Young Frankenstein when Bronfman takes Puff out on the lecture circuit and makes him waltz with his wife. Unbeknownst to Bronfman, however, after these performances, Puff go out drinking and hooks up with prostitutes in alleyways.

Eh. Funny in parts, but it's almost too obvious and you can see where it's going from the outset. Bronfman, obsessed with cleanliness, doesn't know that his live-in girlfriend Lila has a coat of hair covering her body because she shaves every night. Lila, for her part, doesn't know that Bronfman has started sleeping with his sexy French assistant.

In the end, everyone seems to learn their lesson, trite as it is. Lila discovers Bronfman's infidelity and runs off to the woods with Puff to live "naturally", Bronfman gets his and a heroic decision must be made. It seems that the overarching theme to the movie is that human being are ruled by their sex drive, and everything we do in some way relates to our desire to get laid. While admittedly this may be true on some level, Kaufman and director Michael Gondry really strip the nuance and the subtly from interpersonal relations and deliver the message that at heart, everyone really is pretty crummy.

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