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Full Review
Human Nature
Review by Jurgen Fauth

Guide Rating -  

 


"Being John Malkovich" was a movie with an offbeat premise, a talented cast, and a hip director that made for refreshingly quirky entertainment. Now screenwriter Charlie Kaufman returns, this time with buddy Spike Jonez producing, celebrated music video and commercial director Michael Gondry directing, and Tim Robbins and Particia Arquette starring. What promises to be another quirky tale of human foibles turns out to be a completely useless movie.

Kaufmann's plot has too many reversals and switches built into it for a brief summary - suffice it to say that it concerns a scientist (Tim Robbins) obsessed with teaching mice table manners who falls in love with an unnaturally hairy nature writer (Patricia Arquette). On a hike through the woods, the couple comes across Tarzan, or rather his weak, masturbating 21st century incarnation (Rhys Ifans). They take him in and, in the name of scientific discovery, attempt to civilize him through a series of cruel experiments. The scientist's lusty fake French assistant (Miranda Otto, who we'll see much more of in the next installment of the "Lord of the Rings") complicates matters by tempting various males.

"Human Nature" wants to be both an all-out hilarious comedy and a semi-serious socio-ecologic fable on the human condition, but it fails miserably on both counts -- it is largely devoid of both jokes and arguments. In fact, the only thing to be learned from the film is that once you have a hit in Hollywood, you can get away with anything.

Most disturbing I found the obvious contempt the film has for its characters. They are all irredeemably flawed, pathetic, selfish, vain, and treacherous. From the start, we are aware where they end up - dead, in prison, and, even worse, testifying before Congress - and it speaks volumes for this film's peculiar kind of waste that we aren't any closer to them by the time the it's all over. The characters' undoing is, I assume, supposed to be our pleasure, but I find this sort of contempt for humanity cynical and off-putting, especially since it is glossed over with a visual style that is reminiscent of the glib aesthetics of an AT&T commercial.

Like in the recent disappointments "The Royal Tennenbaums" and "Amelie," there's a problem here you might call whimsy overload. A ton of cute ideas do not a satisfying movie make. Granted, there's a single good joke involving mice with table manners, and Tim Robbins miraculously manages to squeeze a bit of depth out of his thankless role, but all in all this is filmmaking that is much too enamored with itself, too jealous and proud of its own achievement to allow itself to be embraced.

I am as ready as the next guy to suspend my disbelief and accept, say, an unnaturally hairy woman who is saved from suicide by a mouse, becomes a forest-dwelling best-selling author who only returns to civilization to satisfy her animal urges for sex - but why on earth would she not find herself a manly stud instead of an under-endowed scientist? Even then, I'd still be able to go with it, if there was a pay-off somewhere. But the movie proceeds almost wantonly, loyal to nothing but some vague sophomoric idea about "civilization vs. nature." Like the final act of "Being John Malkovich," there are too many turns to make sense of. The movie just drudges on, blissfully in love with itself.

 

 Related Reviews    Related Resources
• No Such Thing
• Big Bad Love
• Monsoon Wedding
• Wendigo
• Official Site
• Interviews with Robbins, Arquette, Gondry
• Independent Film
• Directors

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