Human Nature
dir. Gondry
Opens Fri April 12
Various Theaters

In America, people neurotically wax, shave, and pluck their eyebrows, upper lips, pits, nipples, toes, chest, butt cracks, hands, backs, and pubes. Body hair is an American repulsion, seen as a barrier on the road to beauty, desirability and, ultimately, getting laid. Similarly, body hair is the last connection we have to our ancestors, the monkeys--so in a way, body hair removal is the last frontier of distancing ourselves from nature. That idea--human relations with nature, civilization, and body hair--is the crux of Human Nature, the new film written by Charlie Kaufman (Being John Malkovich).

Doomed to the life of an outcast, Lila (Patricia Arquette) was born with an abnormal amount of body hair--not just cursed with hairy legs or coot, Lila's golden sheath of fur makes her look like a frigging Golden Retriever. Because of this, she moves into the wilderness to write nature books with titles like Fuck Humanity. Eventually, however, thanks to the yearn in her loins she's incapable of ignoring, she returns to civilization, where Rosie Perez is her electrolysist and Lila will date anybody--even Nathan, a stuffy scientist whose life dream is to teach proper table manners to mice (played by Tim Robbins).

Director Michel Gondry is well known for his astonishingly beautiful, imaginative videos for Björk, Cibo Matto, and Beck, but except for a few nature scenes that look like the video for "Isobel," his stamp is largely missing. It's disappointing, because he can turn short films and videos into whole other fantasy worlds with his direction. Given his track record, however, it appears the problem of flatness isn't so much Gondry's fault as it is the fault of the script.

More about character development than plot (though it's got plenty of that), Human Nature follows the instincts of and interactions between its protagonists--a man who was raised to think he was an ape, a saucy French lab assistant, Nathan's oppressively civilized parents. Though the story is skewed and unpredictable, fans of Being John Malkovich may be a little disappointed; Human Nature is funny at times, too hokey at others, but the dark quirkiness of Malkovich is missing. It is as if Kaufman thought it was enough to create rich and weird characters, and let the film rest on their stories; somehow, it doesn't quite deliver. It's a weird movie, to be sure, but it's almost like Kaufman was afraid of being too weird, and it held him back. Human Nature is worth seeing for its sheer uniqueness, but unfortunately, it's lacking a little spark.