I Heart Huckabees
Maybe it has something to do with having a quirky title. Joining the strange and wonderful Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind as one of the year's best, David O Russell's I Heart Huckabees offers up another juicy, offbeat, idiosyncratic look at life, love and relationships as told through a maze of existential philosophies.
Albert Markovski (Jason Schwartzman), a bleeding heart poet and staunch environmentalist, is convinced a series of unexplained coincidences involving a tall, African doorman somehow mean something, leading him to married metaphysicians Bernard and Vivian Jaffe (Dustin Hoffman and Lily Tomlin)--otherwise known as the Existential Detectives. Instead of looking for other people, this pair tirelessly investigates the mysteries of their clients' secret innermost lives--their ''Beings,'' so to speak--to help them answer their questions. Immediately digging in, Bernard and Vivian find out that Albert has a deep-seated hatred for Brad Stand (Jude Law), a golden-boy sales executive at the popular retail superstore chain Huckabees who at first, sponsors Albert's Open Spaces Coalition to save a nearby marsh from commercial construction but who ends up taking over the coalition. The Existential Detectives believe Brad may be the key to cracking Albert's case but get sidetracked when Brad hires them for himself--leading them to explore Brad's ambitions, hang-ups and his superficial relationship with Huckabees' hot, blonde spokesmodel Dawn (Naomi Watts). Meanwhile, Albert becomes disenfranchised with Bernard and Vivian and pairs up with another of the duo's clients--firefighter, tough guy and uncompromising soul searcher Tommy (Mark Wahlberg). Together, they join forces with the Jaffes' arch nemesis, sexy French philosopher Caterine Vauban (Isabelle Huppert), whose life teachings revolve around ''cruelty, manipulation and meaninglessness.'' Now, as Being intermixes with Nothingness, Albert, Tommy, Brad, Dawn, Bernard, Vivian and Caterine get all tangled up in one another, as their wild romp through life's biggest questions brings them to some startling truths. Whew!
With such a clever script to back them up, it isn't hard to see why the Huckabees wannabes turn in some cracking good performances. Schwartzman once again plays a nebbish, sullen but lovable geek (similar to his side-splitting turn in Rushmore), bringing out the film's heart and soul, especially with his environmental poetry (''You ROCK, rock!''). Veterans Hoffman and Tomlin, who are dead-on as the happily married Existential Detectives and Huppert, as the deadpan French philosopher, complement the proceedings beautifully. For the first time in a long time, Hoffman doesn't overplay his part, instead letting his quiet inner ''Being'' out, taking his character's philosophies to heart (''Everything you ever desired or wanted to be, you already have and are''). But who knew more serious actors--Mark Wahlberg, Jude Law and Naomi Watts--could be so excruciatingly funny? Wahlberg's freethinking, obstinate firefighter would rather ride a bike to a fire than get into a gas-guzzling fire truck, while Watts' Dawn decides she doesn't need to be pretty and is fearless with overalls, a bonnet and Oreo cookies stuck in her teeth. As the straight man, Law actually has the most difficult part, playing the handsome cad who thinks he doesn't believe in all that existential bullcrap but ever so slightly gets slammed with the reality of it anyway.
Writer/director David O. Russell is one fascinating guy. With a body of work including the really weird and wild Spanking the Monkey, the hilarious slapsticky Flirting With Disaster and the intense Three Kings, it's obvious he is capable of handling a wide variety of subjects. With Huckabees, Russell gets into some serious deep thinking. He says he became ''intrigued with the idea of a detective following someone around not for any criminal or personal intrigue but rather as part of a very serious investigation about existence itself,'' drawing concepts from several different strains of existentialism--from the non-dual, interconnectedness theories of Eastern philosophy (Bernard and Vivian's take), to the Sartrean notions of a more meaningless universe that demands a profound individualism (Caterine's point of view). Huh? Don't worry your pretty little heads about it too much. Russell's bone-crushing sense of humor comes shining through--as does his unique vision, as the camera is used in new and different ways (especially creative when Albert is trying to find his ''Being'')--to piece together a wondrous, coherent, albeit thought-provoking, little gem. Oscar gold awaits.
Existential detectives? Interconnectedness and Nothingness? Poems about rocks? You're thinking, ''Jane, get me off this crazy thing!'' But wait--while belly laughing and scratching your head at the same time, I Heart Huckabees will wash over you in the sweetest way, leaving you wholly satisfied with the outcome.