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Human Nature

  Human Nature
Rhys Ifans testifies before a Senate committee investigating Enron's collapse.

© 2002, Columbia
All Rights Reserved

"Human Nature" (IMDb listing) reminds me of a simpler time on the planet Earth. A time when humankind roamed the countryside covered in body hair, genitalia flowing in the wind and the only needs of concern were food and shelter. "Human Nature" is the new comedy, written by "Being John Malkovich" pseudo-genius Charlie Kaufman, that explores our primal urges, and how we as a nation are worse off by forgetting to indulge these impulses from time to time.

Lila Jute (Patricia Arquette) is a human naturist (she's covered head to toe with body hair) who has decided to return to the forest to live happily and write books about her complicated existence. But time outside of the domesticated world has taken a toll, and Lila is feeling pretty frisky. She returns to civilization, shaves her body hair and begins a relationship with Nathan Bronfman (Tim Robbins), an etiquette scientist who spends hours in his lab trying to teach mice table manners. Out on a hike one day, Lila and Nathan come across a feral man (Rhys Ifans, "Notting Hill") whom they nickname Puff. Puff has lived in the wild his entire life, but soon Nathan changes Puff's wild ways to more refined manners. This leaves Lila torn between continuing to lie about her true nature, or giving herself over to her urges and bring Puff back to the wild to live naturally.

"Human Nature" could be taken two ways. With the massive amount of bodily fluid and a wealth of dry-humping gags, "Nature" can appear to the untrained eye as just another drill in the gross-out humor that has swallowed almost every comedy of the last two years. But "Human Nature" is all that and more. Using some bawdy and strange comedy as a shoehorn into deeper issues of evolution and humanity's relentless desire to homogenize, "Human Nature" is more thought-provoking than probably even the filmmakers intended it to be. Lord help me, I adore a well-played masturbation joke as much as the next guy, and bless Kaufman and director Michel Gondry for not shying away from exhibiting these delicate primal urges. But even with all the light touches, Kaufman does a masterful job showcasing the hairline difference between monkey and man, and how that difference sends civilization into a tizzy trying to figure out how to distance the two.

Director Gondry is a veteran of music videos and commercials, and his untrained feature instincts keeps "Human Nature" fairly enjoyable and remarkably friendly. But the real show is Kaufman's script, his first produced since he rocketed to the top of the critical darling list with "Being John Malkovich." I wasn't a fan of the dry, arrogant tone of "Malkovich," or what director Spike Jones's gimmicky imagination brought to the table in visualizing it. But Gondry is more game to let the script play as is, and keeps his direction clear of the cooler-than-thou Jones' aesthetic that kept me at arm's length from "Malkovich." I could laugh freely at "Human Nature" and not worry about my social status if I didn't understand a joke or two. That's not to say "Nature" is any more juvenile or less intelligent than "Malkovich," but with a new vision guiding Kaufman's story this time out, there is an opening to simply enjoy the film and not worry about needing a MENSA card to get into the theater.

Buried under a thick layer of body hair, actress Patricia Arquette succeeds in finding all the right touches in her interpretation of Lila. I can't say that I've missed the actress during her hiatus over the last two years, but her uninhibited performance in "Human Nature" is a nice reflection to co-star Robbins' role as a refined prude. Rhys Ifans is the other actor forced to go through some major hair applications, but he's a more skilled comedian, and able to play up the part delightfully. If Arquette is there to sell the tragic femininity of the nature angle, Ifans has the more physical part, humping his way through most of the film. Ifans ends up being the sole provider of the belly laughs in "Nature," and he doesn't seem out of place during the higher-minded moments either.

While "Nature" hardly endorses a return to naturalistic ideals, if you've ever fantasized about just ripping your clothes off, finding a mate and climbing a tree, then "Human Nature" is the film for you.

Filmfodder Grade: B

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