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February 02, 2003

DVD Journal: "Human Nature"

Michael Blowhard writes:

Dear Friedrich --

Just caught up with another Charlie Kaufman-written film -- not "Adaptation" but Human Nature, which recently came out on DVD. It's unusual, it's quirky, and I thought it was a stinker. To its credit, it's pretty extreme. Patricia Arquette is a woman with lots of body hair, Tim Robbins is a compulsively orderly psychologist, Rhys Ifans plays a man who grew up wild in the woods thinking he was an ape ... Intellectual control (and culture!) vs. animal nature. Thought-provoking, providing only that you've never had a thought before.

I read somewhere that this was Charlie Kaufman's first movie script, and it doesn't have the pesky brilliance of the first 30 minutes of "Being John Malkovich." It droops along, then goes gonzo for a few minutes as though reminding itself to be outstanding, then loses its way again.

The chemistry isn't there in the directing or most of the acting either. Michel Gondry, who apparently has a reputation as a rock-video director, doesn't show much flair; Arquette (who I often find fascinating in a vague, hippie-cow kind of way) doesn't have anything like the energy the role demands; Robbins (who was once capable of being amusing) is like a college actor who has decided he's really going to be funny this time out, and Ifans ... Well, I guess he lends himself to things OK. I dunno. I didn't enjoy him, but I didn't feel like blaming him for anything either.

A dud, in other words, even if Arquette does get naked a few times. The only performance I enjoyed was from the one lead actor who isn't, for some reason, pictured on the DVD box -- Miranda Otto, who's witty, silky, and mischievous as Gabrielle, the sexy lab assistant who sets her sights on Robbins. But I'm a Miranda Otto fan, and think she's always a treat. Have you ever noticed her? Australian, slim, red-haired (usually), and luscious, with a nice line in the angel/devil, vulnerable/conniving, remonstrating/seducing thing. This is probably the biggest role she's had in an American movie, and she gives a sweet yet high-style performance.

The many-sided Miranda Otto

If you're interested in seeing her act, the best movie I know of to recommend is a small Australian picture called Love Serenade, where she plays a slow-witted provincial girl who has more resources to call on than most people think. She doesn't know how to go about getting love, but that isn't going to stop her. I enjoyed "Love Serenade" a lot, by the way. It's small, genuinely eccentric (in an unforced way, unlike a Charlie Kaufman script) and a little magical. It's also droll and peculiar, like a Bill Forsyth movie only from a woman's perspective. The Wife liked it too.

What have you seen recently?



UPDATE: Oops, I was ungallant and forgot to link to Admired Miranda, the best Miranda Otto fan page on the web, and from where I lifted the above images. Admired Miranda can be visited here.

posted by Michael at February 2, 2003


Of course Miranda Otto also played Eowyn in Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers. I started out hating her performance in that role, but by the end of the movie, I thought she was brilliant.

So, is The Two Towers an American movie? I could argue either side of that question, but it is clearly intended to appeal to the tastes of an American audience, which means more to me than the citizenship of the cast and crew or where it was filmed, FWIW.

Posted by: Doug Sundseth on February 3, 2003 5:09 PM

Let's see, let's see ... There was a Tolkien film out recently? Whew, my grip on the film scene is really slipping. Does she have a major role in it? Thanks for the info.

Well, anyway, "Love Serenade" is a lot of fun, and she's great in it.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on February 3, 2003 11:22 PM

She plays Eowyn. Not a major role at all, but she's in a big film (two, since she'll also be in Return of the King) so her American profile should lift considerably. Her first American appearance appears to have been in The Thin Red Line.

I've been slack about the film-going so far this year, only seen the rerelease of The Last Waltz (not bad though I suspect it'd be enough to live with the CD of it; the visuals don't add that much and I could live happily without the interview segments) and Far From Heaven (an academic exercise in period genre pastiche that ends up merely as a bore) at the cinema. Though I have been watching the films from the Complete Samuel Beckett series on TV as well...

Posted by: James Russell on February 4, 2003 5:22 AM

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