Reviews of I Heart Huckabees
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I ♥ Huckabees is a very particular film. Its subject matter and tone will be appealing to some and alienating to others. I would guess that even those it may appeal to might need to be in a particular mood to enjoy it. I was in the right mood and was able to go along with the quirkiness and found it funny and engaging.
Among other things, it’s about existential philosophy, which makes it, by definition, pretentious. This is not necessarily a bad thing because the filmmakers so thoroughly commit to this vision. The result is a bit of a mess, but unless they pulled Apocalypse Now out of their hats, this was an inevitable result of making a comedy study of the meaning of life.
Jason Schwartzman plays an open spaces activist fighting the giant Huckabees retail corporation over a tract of land targeted for development. He is consistently thwarted by the industry giant represented by a shallow spokescouple (Naomi Watts and Jude Law). Trying to understand his place in the universe, Schwartzman hires two “existential detectives” played by Dustin Hoffman and Lily Tomlin.
Much philosophic musings follow, dealing with coincidences and the interconnectedness of the universe or lack thereof—some are thought provoking, but nothing you can’t get in a freshman year college course.
For all its pretensions, I ♥ Huckabees succeeds because of its quick timing and appealing performances. Hoffman and Tomlin provide some of the funniest moments when their “detective” work requires them to spy on their subjects, yet they always seem to be in plain sight.
An unexpected surprise can also be found in Mark Wahlberg’s debut as a character actor. Wahlberg has actually been in some fine films (Boogie Nights, Three Kings), but he’s usually a straightforward lead, responding to other actors. Here, Wahlberg’s fireman in crisis is a fresh character who manages to steal every scene he is in.
I ♥ Huckabees was directed by David O. Russell, who continues his streak of never making the same film twice. Russell’s first film was a coming-of-age incest drama called Spanking the Monkey. His follow up, Flirting with Disaster, was a very funny and less disturbing look at dysfunctional families. His best film, by far, remains the Gulf War treasure hunt thriller, Three Kings.
With I ♥ Huckabees, Russell does a strange thing. He seems to have adopted the timing and style of another young director, Wes Anderson. Aside from using Schwartzman, best known from Anderson’s Rushmore, Russell adopts the same underplayed deadpan humor that made Anderson’s The Royal Tenenbaums such a joy. The basic idea is to have the actors looking deadly serious in ridiculous situations—which does lead to some big laughs.
- Currently 3.0/5 Stars.
It’s rare I see a film that is so bizarre, so quirky and so original. Also for that matter, it’s so rare I see a comedy so darn entertaining and laugh out loud funny. But this film is one of those rare ones. All of the core cast are in just delightful. The screenplay is top notch stuff and David O. Russell handles it so well. It actually kind of reminded me of a P.T. Anderson film, but perhaps that was due to Jon Brion’s score. Which by the way is superb. I really did love this film.
- Currently 4.0/5 Stars.
My favorite film of 2004, I Heart Huckabees, is one that cannot be easily classified. From the heady philosophy, to the comic genius, to the absurd surrealism, director David O. Russell has gone astray from the mainstream and crafted something that must be autobiographical as well as a passion project. Sure, as of late, there is all the talk about Lily Tomlin and he butting heads (the internet videos are fantastic, but my favorite is Paul Rudd and Michael Showalter doing their own version) and the rumors that George Clooney—who will never work with Russell again after fighting during Three Kings—was the one who leaked the footage, however, this film is just utterly fantastic to me for what it is on tape, not the shenanigans that went on backstage. I could watch it any time, all the time, and love recommending it to friends, because while some love it with me, most absolutely hate it. And when I say hate I mean yelling at me wanting their two hours back. So polarizing and so hilarious, I have nothing bad to say.
That said, I guess I can’t be too objective. Russell has taken everything from art, philosophy, Nietzche, Kafka, Magritte, and on and on, mixed them together in a blender and actually came up with a tale that makes sense…maybe not in such a logical way, but sense nonetheless. Existential crises are common in society, whether people know to call them that or not. We all want answers to those questions that just can’t be answered. The detectives here do their best to solve cases of coincidences, loss of perspective, crisis of faith, etc by keeping 24/7 surveillance and getting deep inside their clients minds to find out what the true problems they don’t want to admit to are. It is an ensemble cast to be sure, with multiple roles intertwining to slowly discover that they are all connected in this giant world, this infinite blanket of life we are all apart of.
There is the poet-spewing activist trying to save the marshlands, the fake department store salesman brought in to help who only wants the good press, his shallow girlfriend whose beauty is her meal ticket, the fireman who has awakened to the problems of petroleum and how it has created all the troubles in the world post-9/11, the husband/wife detective team that believes everything is connected, their ex-pupil who believes it is all random and cruel, and, of course, the African autograph hound in the wrong place at the wrong time, multiple times—or is it the right place at the right time? Every character is uniquely disparate from the others yet by the end, we find they are all very much the same. Their problems may be dissimilar and coping mechanisms unrelated, but underneath it all, each really has a problem with themselves and project that hate on the ones around them.
Jason Schwartzman has always been a favorite of mine, but this role sealed the deal. His Albert is whom we can relate with, a kid with standards and morals that put him at odds with society. He tries his hardest to do what he feels is right, yet finds he can’t take the abuse anymore. Jude Law, minus his atrocious American accent, is brilliant as the self-absorbed marketing rep, so over-the-top throughout, telling his Shania story, but emotionally crippling when his empire finally falls and Naomi Watts is spot-on as the gorgeous model who begins to question the true meaning of inner beauty and the excess and frivolity outer beauty really is. Dustin Hoffman, Tomlin, and Isabelle Huppert are fantastic as well. These are three pretty well known serious actors, (yes they do comedies, but I mean serious as in we take them as artists who hover to quality material), who find themselves doing some pretty crazy things. Between walking through sprinklers and having your face dunked into muddy water, they go all the way.
The real surprise of it all, though, is Marky Mark himself. I have never been a big fan, I thought he was decent in Three Kings and Boogie Nights, but here he is phenomenal. I don’t care what you say about him in The Departed, this is the role I will always relate him to. Expert comedic timing, totally self-deprecating at every turn, Mark Wahlberg owns this film for his scene at the born-again family’s house, (yes that is Jonah Hill there too), telling them like it is. Russell outdoes himself and gets the best out of every actor. If those results mean he has to alienate some actors, than so be it. They are getting paid millions and if a little friction gets them to earn that cash, I say keep it going. I still can’t wait for his next film; it has been too long.
- Currently 5.0/5 Stars.