"Human Nature" almost works. It's ambitious and intriguing, but its one fatal flaw is that its reach seems to exceed its grasp; if only in small moments. There are times in the film where I felt content with the final product, but I always had the sense that it was imperfect. It's well-made and competently written by the masterful, observant, legendary Charlie Kaufman; and directed by Michel Gondry, who made his debut feature with this film. It's not the best way to come into the cinematic world, but I've seen so much worse.
Gondry is able to exercise his unique visual craft in the movie, which is always nice. He is one of the most gifted, living cinematic magicians working in the business today, and to restrain him would also be to ruin him. He doesn't go all the way, but he goes somewhere nonetheless, and therefore I can almost say I was satisfied. But the more I thought, the less I liked "Human Nature". I continued to admire it and enjoy myself throughout; this is solid entertainment. But it also tries to be something more; something, perhaps, a little more thoughtful than most of its kind. It could be labeled as a comedy, and at that, it's better than most. It's often quite funny, and always amusing, but too often does it seem to confuse pleasure with depth and skillful writing. This is where it begins to trip, eventually falling to the ground. Yet, I still feel it's able to get back up again.
A naturalist (Patricia Arquette) who has been plagued with a particularly hairy body her entire life, a passionate scientist (Tim Robbins), and a genuine man-ape (Rhys Ifans) all come together to form the story, and give it characters. The naturalist, named Lila, befriends scientist Nathan, and the two begin a romantic partnership. One day, they take a walk in the woods, and discover the mysterious man-ape, whom they call Puff. They take him back to the lab which Nathan runs, and proceed to study him for many days, many nights, and many months. Nathan is obsessive when it comes to his work with the peculiar man, and the tension only gets, well, tenser, when his sexy secretary comes into his life and starts up an unlikely love triangle that just keeps getting more complicated as the movie goes on.
That's pretty much your story right there, or at least, it's all that I feel you need to know in order for you to make the ultimate decision: is it worth seeing? If you are intrigued by the basic idea behind the film, then I would strongly advise you to give it a shot. I quite enjoyed most of what it had to offer, the filmmaking talents behind it tried their hardest to make it work (and just barely failed to do so, in my opinion), and there's a certain whimsy to the film that cannot be put down or denied. It's not for everyone, and the slapstick tone certainly didn't agree with me for any more than half of the time, but when it's funny; it's actually pretty clever.
It's a nice movie, because it gives us room to admire the film. I enjoyed the scenes of experimentation with mice, love-making in the wilderness (complete with surreal and pretty color schemes), and of course, any sequence involving Puff's growth from ape to "real" man. There are some good gags involving Nathan's strict, somewhat unsupportive parents, as well as many jokes pertaining to apes and how inappropriate life would be if we were still as primitive as they still are, but there's also plenty of repetition; and we've yet again come to another point of criticism surrounding the film.
It's not bad, it's pretty well-acted, and there are some scenes that really stand out. Let's just say that if you like Michel Gondry, then it's worth seeing. This isn't Charlie Kaufman's best screenplay, nor is it anywhere near the quality of his later works, but I can appreciate "Human Nature" for what it is; all it takes is a nice step back. I can't say I recommend it, but by no means am I giving you a red flag NOT to see it. Tread these waters at your own risk, but just remember; even a mildly pretentious, ambitious, comedic mess can be somewhat beautiful, but still...not quite what you might expect from it.