Director: Michel Gondry
Written by: Charlie Kaufman
Starring: Tim Robbins, Patricia Arquette, Rhys Ifans, Miranda Otto and Rosie Perez
Before making Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind together director Michel Gondry and writer Charlie Kaufman made the comedy Human Nature. The script was written before Being John Malkovich was even in production, but didn’t get made and released until 2001, two years after Malkovich. At one point Steven Soderbergh was linked to direct before dropping out and being replaced by Gondry.
Lila (Patricia Arquette, True Romance) has grown up with a hormonal imbalance which caused her to grow hair all over her body. Feeling like an outcast from society she goes to live with nature, becoming a nature writer. All is well with her life, until human nature takes over and she wants a partner. She must re-join society to find a partner and ends up dating Nathan (Tim Robbins, The Shawshank Redemption), a scientist. One day, when hiking they find an ape-like man (Rhys Ifans, The Amazing Spider-Man) and Nathan takes him back to the lab to try and teach him manners.
This film is an exploration of science vs nature through the usual odd and unique style that only Kaufman’s mind can bring up. The narrative is told through flashbacks. From the opening scene, you know the Nathan is dead telling the story in some kind of after-life. Lila is telling the police what happened and the ape-man, known later as Puff is telling his side of the story at a congressional hearing. It’s a bizarre narrative structure that no other writer would attempt to pull-off. Like some of Kaufman’s other films it starts off very charming and fresh and ends up going on too long.
The film is presented in a quirky tone, with backgrounds that are meant to look fake, a moment where Lila bursts into song and most of it being a flashback. It’s full of odd-ball charm and interesting characters that don’t feel like they’ve been rehashed from other films. Arquette is great, bringing a nice sense of humour to the film. The standout performance is Rhys Ifans as Puff. He is completely believable as both the ape-like man and the sophisticated gentleman he is taught to become. He’s magnetic on screen, grabbing your attention and not letting it go.
While there are a few laugh out loud moments, there are also a fair few juvenile jokes that don’t hit the mark. They are more cringy than anything else and stand-out against the rest of film. At points it feels like it leans on the crass humour too much and it just isn’t funny. The film also feels long. It’s only 90 minutes, but after watching it, you’d believe it was 2 hours.
The title sums up the film, it’s about human nature and how far have we actually evolved. It’s funny in places, boring in others. If it didn’t have the quirky charm of Kaufman’s writing then it would be easy to dismiss it, sadly it does outstay its welcome.