Despite the presence of Robin Williams, audiences who go into "Being Human" expecting to see another "Mrs. Doubtfire" will be disappointed. But in its own quirky way, "Being Human" is a satisfying and enjoyable little bit of whimsy, despite a few places where it bites off more than it can chew.
An anthology about five men named Hector in five different periods of history, the stories all have minor elements that thread them together, along with an overall commentary on certain aspects of the human condition. In particular, the film seems to be suggesting that a little courage can make all the difference when we are met with conflict.Theresa Russell offers an odd, upbeat, sing-song "once-upon-a-time" narrative voice that links the stories of these Hectors (all played by Williams), who are fragile, insecure men forced into unanticipated confrontations.
First up is a tragic cave-dwelling piece, as Williams plays a neolithic man who lives a simple but satisfying life with his mate and two children - until it is interrupted by a group of foreign-tongued raiders who kidnap his family.
In the second, a comic segment, Williams' Hector is a Roman slave, whose loopy master (John Turturro) is told he must commit suicide - and he wants to take Hector with him.
The third is a romantic yarn set in the Middle Ages, as this Hector (with a Scottish accent) is returning home from war. The story centers around his meeting up with an alluring Italian widow who lures him to her home.
The fourth and most ambitious story is very dark satire, about shipwrecked Portuguese sailors who find themselves starving on a bleak African shoreline.
And the fifth, which is by far the most successful, is a modern-day tale of a neglectful father who tries to make up for lost time with his two estranged children, whom he has not seen for four years.
After this description, you may think "Being Human" is a large-scale, big-budget epic - and certainly it could have been approached in that manner. But instead of D.W. Griffith's "Intolerance," this is more like Buster Keaton's "The Three Ages."
Written and directed by Bill Forsyth, "Being Human" is a low-key, low-budget, minimalist satire that will likely appeal more to the art-house crowd than mainstream audiences, as has been the case with all of his movies.
And, as you might expect, some of these stories work better than others, and there are places where the film tends to sag.
Yet, the drama is bolstered mightily by the presence of Williams, whose five performances here are superb and most affecting - especially in that final segment. (His supporting players are also very good.)
Scottish filmmaker Forsyth is perhaps still best known for "Local Hero," which starred Peter Riegert and Burt Lancaster some 13 years ago. His other films - every one quite eccentric, and each worth looking for on video - include "Gregory's Girl," "Comfort and Joy," "That Sinking Feeling," "Housekeeping" and "Breaking In."
"Being Human" is rated PG-13 for some violence, sex, profanity and vulgarity. (And it's worth noting that the profanity occurs only during the modern-day sequence . . . a comment on our inadequate vocabulary skills in these latter days, perhaps?)