Review: I ♥ Huckabees

Posted by: Mark McLeod  //  October 15, 2004 @ 11:59am

Filed under: Movie Reviews 

Albert Markovski (Jason Schwartzman) has a conundrum. He's the leader of the local chapter of the Open Spaces Coalition where he uses poetry to save the area from suburban sprawl. However, he has a problem. He continually and without warning runs into this tall African man and wants to know the meaning of why it keeps occurring. So he goes to the secret offices of Vivian (Lily Tomlin) and Bernard Jaffe (Dustin Hoffman) who are Exsistential Detectives who take on various cases involving the meaning of life and how everything is connected to one another through even the oddest of day-to-day events. The only problem is that his work situation is volatile and when the Jaffes start snooping around, things begin to fall apart. No sooner do they arrive, when Albert's arch enemy Brad (Jude Law) " a marketing executive at the Huckabees corporation and the man trying to steal Albert's coalition " hires them to take on a case of his own. Fearing a conflict of interest, Albert becomes increasingly upset with the Jaffes. He then meets Tommy (Mark Wahlberg), a firefighter with a strange hatred for petroleum after 9/11. Tommy has been contacted by a french thinker by the name of Caterine Vauban (Isabelle Huppert), who just so happens to have the exact opposite approach and mind set to solving these existential crises. Meanwhile, the Jaffees continue on the case and are sure that Brad and Albert are linked together in more then one way. Just what effect will the investigations have on Brad's girlfriend Dawn (Naomi Watts), the voice of Huckabees and spokes model who continuously questions her acting ability and beauty? As the big Open Sources benefit with Shania Twain approaches, the paths of these seemingly random and unrelated individuals begin to intersect, proving that even the most unrelated set of individuals' lives can intersect because of one event. Mayhem and confusion ensues in David O. Russell's I ♥ Huckabees.

I ♥ Huckabees is the fourth film from director David O. Russell, best known for Flirting with Disaster and Three Kings " a film which he recently spoke out about, regarding creative problems with the studio folks at Warner Bros. Now, after a few years' break, he's back with the creatively titled I ♥ Huckabees, where the second word is not a word at all but a heart symbol. At first glance, the trailer for the film makes very little sense as it seems to be nothing more than a bunch of unconnected images that really don't explain what the plot or storyline of the film is. Adding to the confusion as to what the film was really about was a vague teaser trailer that was nothing more than an infomercial from within the film itself, with Naomi Watts' character as the spokesmodel for the Huckabees store. What exactly Huckabees sells and does is never really explained, nor is the film much more coherent on a first viewing than the trailers that preceded its release. That being said, there is a lot happening and a lot to take in as the film has a number of theories on life and our place within it and the universe. David O. Russell and screenwriter Jeff Baena have assembled a group of loosely connected characters (some by no more than a set of coincidences) who interact and come together through the seemingly simple event of an Open Spaces group who are trying to protect the environment. Each of the main characters has significant questions about their lives, and the detectives played by Dustin Hoffman and Lily Tomlin try to answer those questions through a variety of interesting, though sometimes frustrating, methods. Take for example a concept presented that the Universe is a blanket and within that blanket, you, me, and everything else exist. Everything is different yet the same. That is just one of the thought-provoking concepts (of which there are many) contained within the film.

Not all of I ♥ Huckabees is a deeply thought-provoking experience. In fact, a great majority of the film is quite humorous and light-hearted. One could argue that this movie is one of the lightest and fluffiest films ever to reach the screen that also explores deeper philosophical and life-affirming issues. David O. Russell juggles all these characters, magically alternating between moments of laugh out loud humour and thought-provoking drama. For an example, one moment Dustin Hoffman and Lily Tomlin may be rifling through a garbage can before being caught by Jude Law and Naomi Watts who open up about their "Seven Minutes of Heaven", while the next Jason Schwartzman or Mark Wahlberg's characters might be talking about the meaning of life and our place in it. The film works on many levels because it never takes itself too seriously, lightening up the heavy thought material whenever possible without even making the audience aware that it is happening.

It's not every day that you get as stellar a cast as has been assembled for this film. All too often, you can get a bunch of A-list actors together for a film, but the material isn't strong enough to sustain interesting characters for each person involved. Simply put, you have the names for star power and not informative, engaging, or strong characters. The complete opposite is on display in Huckabees, as every member of this first-rate ensemble cast gives one of their best performances in recent memory. Starting at the top, you have Jude Law, who appears to have been in every movie that has come out or is about to come out. Law, who is mostly known for dramatic-type roles excels in this more broad-based role of a Huckabees executive trying to steal Albert's coalition to advance his place in the organization. He holds his own in scenes with legend Dustin Hoffman and the always humorous Jason Schwartzman, and is paired nicely as the straight man to Naomi Watts' over the top Dawn. Naomi Watts and Mark Wahlberg are two actors that up until now have mostly focused on dramas or action films and are just now getting their feet wet with comedy. Wahlberg has the funniest character in the film by far, and just based on the trailer and television spots alone makes this film worth seeing. Watts has the smallest of the main roles, but still contributes enough laughs as the voice of Huckabees and Law's girlfriend. Also contributing spot-on performances are Dustin Hoffman, Lily Tomlin, and Isabelle Huppert as the three existential detectives. It's interesting and intriguing to listen to all three of their various theories.

I ♥ Huckabees certainly isn't a movie for everyone. It's an interesting mix of comedy, drama, and thought-provoking takes on our existence and how we are all interconnected (or not interconnected for that matter). The writing by David O. Russell is sharp and pointed and the acting is first rate as is to be expected from a cast of this magnitude. Although after two viewings I'm still not really sure what exactly happens in the film, it's an interesting film to watch and to try to dissect, and I gained even more during my second viewing. Featuring a strong score by Jon Brion " including a song that appears in the trailer which I can't for the life of me figure out the title for " and rock solid visuals, Huckabees is a film that will most likely please people who like this sort of feature. Certainly not for everyone, but for those who like to laugh at more than "dick and fart jokes" while still being presented with some strong philosophical concepts, you'll be hard pressed to find a more engaging feature.

Mark McLeod has always loved film. In addition to his roles with ShowbizMonkeys.com, Mark also works on many film promotion projects in Vancouver, BC, through his company, Mark McLeod PR.

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