I Heart Huckabees (2004) / Comedy
MPAA Rated: R for language, brief nudity, and sexuality
Running Time: 106 min.
Cast: Jason Schwartzman, Mark Wahlberg, Jude Law, Lily Tomlin, Dustin Hoffman, Naomi Watts, Isabelle Huppert, Tippi Hedren, Angela Grillo, Ger Duany, Jean Smart, Talia Shire, Bob Gunton, Shania Twain
Director: David O. Russell
Screenplay: David O. Russell, Jeff Baena
When you go into a movie that evokes the adjectives, "existential" and "philosophical", you can bet that it's going to be a movie that appeals almost exclusively to people who like things that are on the esoteric side of things. I tend to enjoy smart films, and there's no denying that I Heart Huckabees, as written and directed by David O. Russell (Three Kings, Flirting with Disaster) is an intelligent film, but sometimes these things can be too clever for their own good. For as much as I found this to be a visually impressive, well-acted, well-scripted, and sporadically amusing affair, there's just one thing that bothered me, and it's not the fact that I didn't understand the profundity of the subject matter. Actually, it is the manic pacing of the comedy that bothered me, breathlessly frenetic to a fault, as if Russell couldn't stop for even a moment or his whole house of cards would fall apart into nothingness, which I argue would be appropriate for a movie that uses nihilism as a plot device. Yes, this is one where I have to admit personal prejudices that kept me from enjoying what could have been a fun film, as breakneck comedies just never do it for me. Your mileage may vary if this usually doesn't affect you.
Jason Schwartzman (Spun, Rushmore) plays Albert Markovski, leader of an environmentalist group who have been putting pressure on the department store chain, Huckabees, to help protect the some undeveloped land from urbanization. Albert has also been experiencing some strange coincidences lately, and thinks there must be some reason or sign. He heads to a couple of "existential detectives" (Lily Tomlin and Dustin Hoffman) to find out what the coincidences mean, as well as the meaning of the rest of his existence. However, the investigation necessitates them following every move he makes and conversation Albert is engaged in, and this only seems to complicate matters more, particularly when the detectives are also hired by key members of the Huckabees organization.
Those interested in philosophy, particularly in the interconnections of existentialism and nihilism, will find lots to like in this very ambitious and original comedy. It is also recommended for those who enjoy offbeat films, and even if the meanings of the films aren't always clear, the fact that you're watching something that feels important and refreshing will probably keep you engaged, despite the perplexing nature of what it's all supposed to mean. The third kind of audience is the one that basically ignores that which they don't understand and just enjoys the movie's energy and moments of inspired lunacy, watching some of their favorite actors having a good time with the material (this is the audience who enjoys the film purely on a visceral level, resolved to small moments, even if the big picture eludes them). The rest, which probably constitutes the majority of potential viewers, is probably of the audience that either won't stick with it for long, or if they do, will grow frustrated by the pretentious nature of the writing, with characters and situations that offer little to connect to.
I realize I'm being simplistic about the above paragraph, as I'm probably ignoring certain unique individuals out there who absolutely connect with the film on every level, as well as those who might enjoy it for one particular aspect, such as the performances of Tomlin (Orange County, The Kid) and Hoffman (Meet the Fockers, Finding Neverland). However, I just wanted to stress that I Heart Huckabees has its audience, and I do recognize that for some viewers, it is indeed a good film. It's the kind of movie where I personally didn't find enough interest or entertainment value, but if I knew someone who would seem like they meet the aforementioned entertainment standards, I would probably steer them in its direction.
While I didn't find enough here to satisfy me (in fact, I grew bored with it fairly early), the performances and the look of the film were enough to keep my interest modestly throughout. For those who haven't seen it, I would say that if it looks like it has some appeal, it's worth giving a shot, although a movie this experimental is just as likely to turn you off as it is to completely blow you away, depending on your background and what it is you look for in a movie. As for me, I Heart Huckabees is a movie that probably flew over my head thematically, but is well-made enough that I could see myself watching it again in a few years and perhaps being completely absorbed by. For now, it remains a muddled curiosity that offers just enough to intellectually tease, but not enough to truly engage.
©2005 Vince Leo