Screenwriter Charlie Kaufman has a thing for people who identify with animals. In Being John Malkovich, he confined the critter-loving Cameron Diaz to a cage with a monkey and let her wild hair imitate the unkempt fur of her cellmate. And now, in Human Nature, he presents a strange trio of humans, each with a problematic relationship to our furred, feathered, or four-footed friends as well as a number of minor players who feel more comfortable in the wild than in a cubicle. But without the distorting lens of Spike Jonze’s directorial genius, the author betrays the fact that he doesn’t really sympathize with those who sympathize with our hairy friends; he actually disdains all mankind, from the soi-disant civilized to the beasts’ best friends. Kaufman’s script for Human Nature is directed straightforwardly by Michel Gondry, so the jokes hit smack on the head, and hypocrisies are exposed with all the subtlety of a bandage being ripped off a chimp’s backside.
The basic story is a fussy and old-fashioned one, burdened, through its ostentatiously quirky details, with a sneering misanthropy. Nature writer Lila Jute (Patricia Arquette), torn between the comforts of civilization and her inherent wildness—symbolized by a head-to-toe mat of body hair—falls for scientist Nathan Bronfman (a numbly understated Tim Robbins), who, unhealthily obsessed with the control of instinctive urges, is trying to teach table manners to lab mice. On a hike, the couple comes upon a feral human (Notting Hill’s Rhys Ifans), raised in an exurban forest as an ape by his demented father. Nathan and his scheming minx of an assistant (Miranda Otto) undertake a plan to “civilize” the wild man, while Lila struggles with both her love for Nathan and her disgust at his experiment.
The film looks arty enough, with deep colors saturating the bedrooms and leafy exteriors and an eerie, dead transparency infusing Nathan’s lab, but its soul is as conventional as the 19th-century texts it mirrors. Human Nature is A Clockwork Orange by way of Jean Jacques Rousseau: The gentle, impulsive beast-man is tamed, then untamed so he can be “free”—by which time, of course, it’s too late. “When in doubt, don’t ever do what you really want to do,” instructs the pathologically well-mannered Nathan, letting you know just where Kaufman stands on those who consider civilization useful. As to the noble savages running wild, free, and, in Arquette’s case, hairy through the forest, they’re no better than their napkin-folding counterparts—snuffling, grunting bundles of base urges. Human Nature pretends to be confrontational, but its depiction of “natural” behavior is a prude’s fevered vision of adult sexuality as foul and grotesque, a point of view not elevated or even interpreted by poor Arquette, a blond zombie incapable of adding shading to any role.
Every character, though, is unlikable or marginalized, and all of their actions are thoroughly unpleasant to watch. Predictably, Nathan overcivilizes the wild man with a cruel regimen of electric shocks and twisted instinct repression until he’s a simpering, pipe-puffing popinjay and, worse, until he learns the very human craft of betrayal. Just as predictably, Lila liberates the ascot-wearing specimen and tries to reintroduce him to the wild, with equally miserable results. Kaufman seems to be saying that anyone who tampers with the natural course of human development is, at worst, psychotic and, at best, ridiculous. More ridiculous, though, is this slimy, no-fair dodge of a film, which fails to suggest what that course is or should be.
Scott J. Gill may have titled his documentary Porn Star: The Legend of Ron Jeremy, but it could just as well have been called Ron Jeremy: Toward a Partial Explanation. After all, what everyone who has heard of Jeremy knows about him, what everyone likes about him, is that he’s the world’s unlikeliest, and most successful, male porn star. Short, fat, hairy, self-deprecating, and a notorious tightwad, “the Hedgehog” has appeared in more than 1,500 porn films and directed about 100 more. Everywhere he goes, young women lift their shirts or pull down their shorts for an autograph from the 49-year-old. Frat boys worship him; directors love him. In a world that exalts youth and firmness and is not known for its sense of humor, how did this happen?
The short answer, so to speak, is that Jeremy has a 10-inch dick. But it isn’t the whole story. In fact, Jeremy corrects the claim, admitting to 9-and-three-quarter inches, but the thing is still an imposing screen presence. Add to that his preternatural talents as a “woodsman”—an actor blessed with not only stamina but also certain powers of timing—his on-set professionalism, his sense of humor, his legendary skill at oral sex (attested to by numerous actresses), and his enthusiastic if not nuanced acting ability, and Jeremy is the perfect porn star in the package of, as one fan puts it, a pizzeria owner. But even his schlubbiness is a bonus, allowing generations of men to project themselves into the scenarios of his films with the simple fantasy so cherished by film industries legit and not-so: If this guy has a chance, so do I.
Gill cuts smoothly between grizzled mainstream and adult-film veterans, bouncy, plastic-skinned porn actresses, and Jeremy’s family and nonporn friends, interspersing scenes from Jeremy’s movies to facetiously illustrate a mood or an event in the subject’s life. It’s a cute technique that Gill never allows to become intrusive—he has a light hand and is under no illusions that he’s found serious subtext in Orgazmo or Butt Munch 6—but a couple of quirks end up grating over the long haul. He never repeats an interviewee’s name, for example, and he shoots some of them from odd angles with no explanation as to why we have to squint up or peer across a huge desk at them.
But Porn Star is an easygoing entertainment, as befits its subject. Jeremy is portrayed as humble, ordinary, and slightly insecure, shruggingly confessing to fans that he can “just kiss the tip” of his famous co-star (he once famously fellated himself onscreen) and hustling to meet various planes using plastic garbage bags as luggage. His every nanosecond in a mainstream film—that’s usually his maximum screen time—sparks a flurry of resume-rewriting and video-clip viewing. Tellingly, Gill includes a montage of Jeremy carting around an armful of posters for Detroit Rock City. In his office, on the street, at strip-club appearances, the actor is shown jabbing at his little caricature on the poster’s crowd scene, crowing, “That’s me right there.” Which is exactly what you’d expect from a basically normal and understated guy who’s had sex with, at conservative count, some 5,000 of the world’s most bodacious females. CP