Human Nature  (2002) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

Human Nature is a quirky niche-audience comedy from the mind of Charlie Kaufman, the same pleasantly disturbed man who wrote being John Malkovich, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, and Adaptation. Three of those films came out in the last year, so he is not only demented, but prolific as well.

In a sense, it is a traditional love quadrangle, like those French roundelay farces where A loves B, B loves C, C loves D, and D loves A. In this case however, the four main characters are rather unusual.

  • Patricia Arquette plays a writer/researcher who has an extreme personal grooming issue: her body is covered with hair, like an ape's. For years she lived in nature, away from humans, but has returned briefly to human company because she needs a mate.
  • Tim Robbins plays a scientist who was raised by crazy parents who were obsessed with manners and discipline. The effects are seen in his own work, which mainly involves teaching proper table manners to mice.
  • Rhys Ifans, that Welsh comedic genius, plays a man who was raised in the wilderness, thinking he was an ape.
  • Miranda Otto is Robbins's assistant, who pretends to be French for no apparent reason.

The characters come together in various romantic permutations after Robbins comes upon the feral Ifans, and decides to teach him how to act like a polite human being. Robbins figures if he can teach mice to eat with salad forks, it should be a simple matter to teach a real human to be polite. Ifans does quite well, managing to master philosophy and opera overnight. He becomes completely civilized, except for the fact that he can't overcome his ape background in sexual matters. The site of buttocks drives him crazy with lust, causing him to act like a horny dog, humping every bum he sees. Robbins places a shock collar on Ifans to control him in such cases, and the experiment continues until his ultimate test - lunch at Hooters.


Rhys Ifans and Patricia Arquette expose pretty much every inch of their bodies repeatedly. Ifans and Arquette are to be commended for comedy valor beyond the call of duty, because the two of them spend much of the film naked, climbing trees, and running through forests.

DVD info from Amazon.

  • widescreen anamorphic 1.85:1, and a fullscreen version

The very epitome of "offbeat" comedy.

I didn't laugh much, but I didn't laugh that much at Being John Malkovich either, although I enjoyed both movies because I enjoyed the sheer audacity of the concepts. Kaufman's scripts use lowbrow humor, like slapstick and pratfalls, to make highbrow points. I don't know if there has ever been a film with more falling down and tripping, yet beneath the frivolity is a serious examination of how we are each shaped by our environment, unaware of the extent to which we are an extension of our parents and teachers and the conventions of our society. As the film portrays vividly, our lives are basically a struggle between what we want to do (hump the beautiful  buttocks when our waitress bends over) and what we have been taught to do (avert our eyes politely).

The Critics Vote

  • General USA consensus: two and a half stars. Ebert 3/4,  Entertainment Weekly C+.

The People Vote ...

  • IMDB summary. Voting results: IMDb voters score it a fairly respectable 6.2/10, Yahoo voters appraise it comparably at 3.2/5
  • It grossed less than a million dollars in the USA, never reaching more than 250 theaters.


The meaning of the IMDb score: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence equivalent to about three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, comparable to approximately two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, equivalent to about a two star rating from the critics. Films rated below five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film - this score is roughly equivalent to one and a half stars from the critics or even less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. (C+ means it has no crossover appeal, but will be considered excellent by genre fans). D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.

Based on this description, C+. A deeply weird movie, which may be your cup of tea if you like quirky comedy and/or Patricia Arquette. Classic cult film.

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