This is a story about the dude who Wrote BEING JOHN MALKOVICH and how if that movie alone didn’t prove that he was some kind of demented genius, then this one does. HUMAN NATURE is the story of a woman with a hormonal problem causing her whole body to be covered with hair, who lives among the animals until she falls in love with a scientist whose life work involves teaching mice the difference between a salad fork and a regular fork. Together they try to civilize a feral man who grew up in the woods thinking he was an ape.
Sounds completely silly and random, right? But what surprised me, a film expert, was the amount of Substance in there. If this were just a regular, make you laugh kind of comedy it would still be the most original, and funniest, in a long time. There were less than ten people at the showing I went to and I was embarassed because I was laughing harder than anyone else. But believe me, I’m the one that’s right. This movie is fuckin hilarious.
At the same time it’s pretty fuckin sad. Like in BEING JOHN MALKOVICH the characters all think they know what they want, and where they belong, but when they get it it doesn’t make them happy, or it turns around to bite them on the ass. And they all play a sort of relationship musical chairs, switching partners in repeated acts of betrayal that never turn out well for anyone involved. And they all try to get what they want by pretending to be what they think the other person wants them to be, and then they get stuck pretending. Holy jesus this Charlie Kaufman dude must be fucked up, but I’m glad he is able to Write about it. Hey Charlie if you need somebody to talk to about it, I would talk for a little while a guess, if you tell me a couple jokes or something.
But it was actually the civilization vs. living in the woods crap that impressed me the most in this movie. Mr. Kaufman and his accomplice, the video director Michel Gondry, show the preposterousness of both. You have to laugh at hairy Patricia Arquette, living in the woods, singing about squirrels, getting pelted by rain storms at night and Writing bestselling books about it. But it’s a much better life than Tim Robbins’ character Dr. Bronfman lives, obsessing over senseless human rules about salad forks, substituting references to canonical type works (Moby Dick, Monet) for real life or appreciation of culture. In his simple mindset, you either read Moby Dick once and you’re cultured or you haven’t, and you’re a savage. No grey area there.
More than anything this movie reminds me of the works of Mr. Bunuel, who we last discussed in my review of Van Damme & Rodman’s DOUBLE TEAM. But I think Kaufman and Gondry’s target is bigger than just the bourgiouse – it’s humanity itself. (That’s us, boys.) There are parts in this movie where you feel like you’re laughing at other people, but to be frankly honest some of it made me very uncomfortable. The sight of Patricia Arquette’s body covered in hair is repulsive, but it has to occur to you at some point in the movie that shaving it all every day is completely unnatural and tragic. I mean honestly I don’t like to look at a woman with hairy legs or a gigantic bush, but why they fuck should they be shaving that much hair anyway? Isn’t it a waste of time and effort, a daily failed attempt to thwart nature? What is wrong with us people?
Well maybe it’s human nature to try, and fail, to defy human nature. Once he’s completely “civilized”, the feral man Puff spends his days in a tuxedo, making presentations and receiving honorary degrees, and his evenings drinking, compulsively buying porn and screwing whores. Dr. Bronfman uses shock therapy to teach Puff to control his sexual urges (so he won’t masturbate in public or dry hump a stranger’s ass) but he himself can’t stop from having an affair with his assistant.
But I must reiterate that all this is real fuckin funny. There are so many stupid little details that make you laugh. Like the solitary, pathetic tree inside Puff’s plexiglass cage that apparently is supposed to represent his natural habitat. Or the artificial fireplace that’s added to his cage to represent a more civilized lifestyle. There’s also alot of playing with movie conventions. A childhood flashback shows how Dr. Bronfman got his obsession with proper fork etiquette, but when his psychiatrist points out the connection, the doctor completely denies it. A character narrates from beyond the grave, but has very little insight to offer. Other characters tell their story to police interrogators and the United States Congress, but none of them seem at all interested. Rosie Perez plays that standard supportive friend character for Patricia Arquette, but she spends most of her scenes pulling hairs out of Patricia’s back or feet.
If you can’t stand movies where the main characters aren’t completely sympathetic, you might want to sit this one out. Also if you are pretty stupid, I mean not to put too fine a point on it or whatever, but this one ain’t for you either. There is masturbating and what not but this is definitely a smart people comedy. It’s a movie that not so much pushes the envelope of standard comedy as just tears open the envelope, spits in it, reseals the envelope and marks it return to sender. Kind of like FREDDY GOT FINGERED, but way smarter, funnier and with better filmatism. The point is, HUMAN NATURE is the best comedy I’ve seen in a real long time. It is destined to make no money and be discussed and dissected for years to come.
VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.