The Fun of Having a 'Human Nature'

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), April 12, 2002 | Go to article overview

The Fun of Having a 'Human Nature'


Byline: Gary Arnold, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

"Human Nature," which has the same screenwriter as "Being John Malkovich," is a goodie of the utterly nutty kind.

Charlie Kaufman wrote both screenplays. The brilliantly preposterous "Malkovich" was directed by Spike Jonze. Michel Gondry, a droll and promising French transplant, directs "Human Nature."

Once again, four principal characters are destined to get shuffled and muddled as consorts. The narration is distributed among a trio. One reports from the afterlife, which looks like a severely refrigerated environment.

The story proper begins with the account of Lila, portrayed by Patricia Arquette. Plagued by a hormonal imbalance that produces an overgrowth of body hair, Lila becomes a fugitive in her teens. Following a field mouse, perhaps in the absence of Alice's rabbit, she flees into the forest and lives as a child of nature.

Time scampers and Lila re-emerges in young womanhood, gnawed by mating instincts that have remained unfulfilled. She writes a provocative best seller about her experiences.

Upon the advice of a kindly electrologist (a small but savory role for Rosie Perez), Lila forms a hopeful misalliance with an overcivilized opposite. This is Tim Robbins as behavioral researcher Nathan Bronfman, professionally absorbed in teaching table manners to lab mice. A stern taskmaster, Nathan sends one of his slow learners to bed without dinner when it uses the wrong fork.

Nathan grew up with fanatically genteel parents, portrayed by Mary Kay Place and Robert Forster. Mother has impressed the following lesson upon him: "Never wallow in the filth of instinct."

Nathan means it when he confides, "I blame my parents." He has a fetching assistant named Gabrielle, who claims to be French and is played very wittily by Australian actress Miranda Otto.

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