Renowned nature writer Lila Jute (Patricia Arquette) is a neurotic brimming with personal problems--her willingness to strip down at the drop of the hat (as long as she's outdoors, with strategically placed foliage surrounding her) being one of them. Aside from her exhibitionist tendencies, the issue most vexing to the nervous naturalist is the hormonal imbalance that's transformed her into some kind of giant, ambulatory hairball. The hirsute Jute is a freak who seethes with self-hatred; unfortunately, she's also the closest thing to a sympathetic character in Human Nature.
A satiric assault on the folly of civilized values, the film features a wealth of grotesques, all torn between primal urge and propriety. Behaviorist Nathan Bronfman (Tim Robbins) is such an insufferable tight-ass that his life's work consists of administering shock treatment to lab mice in order to teach them table manners. Lila's straight-shooting (read: insensitive) pal, electrologist Louise (Rosie Perez), introduces her to only the most pitiful of romantic prospects--meaning, of course, that she introduces Lila to Nathan. Feral guy and habitual public masturbator Puff (Notting Hill's Rhys Ifans), raised as an ape in the wilderness, is subject to inhumane conditioning after he's captured by Lila and Nathan and transported to the lab. And Nathan's assistant, horny gamine Gabrielle (Miranda Otto), fakes a French accent and hangs all over every man she meets.Aside from the principals' coupling and uncoupling, Human Nature doesn't have much of a story, although the characters who are comfortable with their instincts fare better than those who aren't. The film is noteworthy as screenwriter Charlie Kaufman's follow-up to the trippy Being John Malkovich (he and Malkovich director Spike Jonze are producers, with French video/commercial director Michel Gondry--the brain behind those nauseating Levi's singing-bellybutton ads--directing here) and, like its predecessor, Human Nature is tinged with misanthropy and has the makings of a sharp social satire: At one point, Nathan sums up civilization by explaining to Puff, "When in doubt, don't do what you really want to do." But Nature is offbeat to the point of being off-key (the goofy musical interlude where Lila croons about finding solace in the outdoors is particularly cringe-inducing), the laughs are nonexistent, and, short of repeatedly emphasizing and underlining its One Big Idea, it doesn't have much to say.