It's very hard to film a popular American movie star as a cave man without making him look silly.

BEING HUMAN

A Illusion review by Joan Ellis.


"Being Human" shows us exactly what Robin Williams would be like in a valium trance. It's not that he can't play a timid soul when asked. It's just such an awful waste. Williams is a prodigious talent with equal facility for comedy or pathos, but here he is playing a weak, undefined character in an oddly uninteresting set of period pieces.

So the question becomes just what is writer/director Bill Forsyth trying to do and why is Robin Williams doing it? It doesn't seem like too long a reach to speculate that Williams was intrigued with Forsyth's idea of tracing a human being being human through several centuries. The movie follows Hector as cave man, slave to a noble Roman, Irishman, shipwrecked gentleman and, finally, contemporary divorced husband/father.

You hardly need to connect the dots to find the problem. It's very hard to film a popular American movie star as a cave man without making him look silly. The voice timbre, the accents, the look of this movie are contemporary. However words sounded in the cave culture, they didn't sound like this. The error is magnified by an American narrator who makes flashy little comments about the passing parade and destroys any possibility of period flavor. A storyteller she isn't.

In each of his five lives, Hector is Forsyth's vehicle for exploring a few of history's driving forces: courage, cowardice, greed, love and food. As coward, Hector falters in indecision as his wife and children are stolen by invaders. He runs from an escapee who needs his help. He reneges on a promised suicide pact with his noble Roman and puts himself before his friends in heading for uncertain rescue on an African beach.

If he is a coward, he's also a follower. He vacillates until others lead him to decision - his cave wife, his master, his priest and his new age daughter, who leads him through the supermarket, relieving him of the need to make choices at the food bins. The poor fellow is always trying to escape some state of siege, trying to go home without ever quite making it. It's a relief to watch him pee silently and without drama, which seems to work well in all centuries.

This movie has water, water everywhere: the cave is by the ocean, and so are the Romans, the Irish, the Portuguese and the Americans. It's connective tissue, but we never understand the connection. The whole thing is less than a noble failure, more than a bad idea. Bill Forsyth's view of historical detail is so quirky that nothing works either as straight drama or as lighthearted comment. The ground between the two is silliness, and that's a shame because the actors, who play many roles each, are very good. If you are intrigued by the idea of how a person might pass through the centuries, you may want to try "Orlando."


Film Critic: JOAN ELLIS
Word Count: 485
Studio: Warner Bros.
Rating: PG-13


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