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October 2004

By Julian Roman

I Heart Huckabees

Distributor: Fox Searchlight
Director: David O. Russell
Producers: Gregory Goodman, Scott Rudin, & David O. Russell
Screenwriter: Gregory Goodman, Scott Rudin, David O. Russell
Cinematographer: Peter Deming
Composer: Jon Brion
Cast: Jason Schwartzman, Jude Law, Mark Wahlberg, Naomi Watts, Dustin Hoffman, Lily Tomlin, Isabelle Huppert



David O. Russell is a director that's not afraid to go out there and do something completely different. He follows up the smash hit Three Kings with one of the strangest comedies to grace the silver screen. I Heart (my computer doesn't have a graphic for the heart symbol) Huckabees is a verbose philosophical quest set against a corporate department store and its takeover of a local wetland. It is a wacky, peculiar film that'll have you bored with pretentiousness or extolling its genius. Simply put, there isn't any middle ground. You're either going to love this movie or hate it with every fiber of your being. I thought it was great. It takes a ridiculously complex subject, like the search for one's self in the universe, and spins it into a goofy farce with oddball characters. Sometimes you really have to buy into a film. It's a lot to soak up, but a jewel once you get involved. Huckabees is a tremendously clever satire of modern culture.

Jason Schwartzman stars as Albert Markovski, the troubled director of an environmentalist group. He seeks out the services of a pair of existential detectives (Lilly Tomlin and Dustin Hoffman). Albert is convinced there's some cosmic truth behind his accidental meetings with a tall African doorman. The detectives take his case on one condition, they have the right to follow you everywhere you go. They find out that Albert is locked in a power struggle with greedy businessman, Brad Stand (Jude Law). He's helping the Huckabees Corporation, think Target, Wal-Mart, and Old Navy rolled into one, settle with the environmental group over demolishing a protected wetland. The detectives have an angry customer (Mark Walhberg) that's taken up with their disgruntled former protégé (Isabelle Hupert). He and Albert become friends and decide to search for the truth together. Meanwhile, Brad and his girlfriend (Naomi Watts), who happens to be the spokeswoman for Huckabees, find their lives changing under the microscope of the existential detectives.

The film is very complicated. To say there's a lot happening is an understatement, but David O. Russell has a method to the madness. Two competing philosophies are front and center in the movie. I won't delve into it, but they're polar opposites in their views of life. One is optimistic and the other is pessimistic. The characters in the movie are searching for individual truths. They're all very different, but equally affected by what they discover about themselves. The real humor is just how far everyone's willing to go. You have to change your life if you experience a life changing event. That's pretty hard to swallow. You'll laugh yourself silly watching these people adjust to the truth of their existence. It's like a philosophical gag reel. That's where the comedy is delivered and it works beautifully.

I Heart Huckabees has a really distinct visual style. This was the most surprising aspect of the film. There are many scenes of disturbing imagery and kooky special effects. They range from simple composite shots to the surreal and computerized. It piles on an extra helping of weirdness. They're meant to conceptualize what the characters are thinking. It gets to be too much after a while, but definitely benefits the story. It's interesting to see how twisted people can get in their own minds.

Many people will despise the film for the same reasons that I like it. It's really not for everyone and there's no conceit in saying that. Huckabees is not a barometer for intelligence. It's a high concept comedy geared towards a specific audience. My father, who never argued about Jung or Sartre in his life, wouldn't sit through ten minutes of this movie. And that's not saying he's never heard of those philosophers, he just doesn't care about them or their ideology. That's the reaction a lot of people will have. An existential comedy has no meaning for them.