Thursday, January 13, 2011

I Heart "I Heart Huckabees"

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 41 (of 2005) by Leroy Douresseaux

I Heart Huckabees (2004)
Also known as I ♥ Huckabees
Running time: 106 minutes (1 hour, 46 minutes)
MPAA – R for language and a sex scene
DIRECTOR: David O. Russell
WRITERS: Jeff Baena and David O. Russell
PRODUCERS: Gregory Goodman, Scott Rudin, and David O. Russell
EDITOR: Robert K. Lambert


Starring: Jason Schwartzman, Dustin Hoffman, Lily Tomlin, Jude Law, Mark Wahlberg, Naomi Watts, Isabelle Huppert, Angela Grillo, Ger Duany, Jean Smart, Talia Shire, Bob Gunton, and Shania Twain

A “mid-life crisis” is an example of an “existential crisis.” Other examples can be summed up by such laments as “What am I doing with my life?” “my life has been a mistake?” or “my life is a joke.” These are the kind of issues David O. Russell (Flirting with Disaster and Three Kings) tackles in his inventive and daring film, I Heart Huckabees (or I ♥ Huckabees).

Husband and wife existential detectives, Vivian (Lily Tomlin) and Bernard Jaffe (Dustin Hoffman), solve the mysteries that are made of a maze of emotions. Their first client, Albert Markovski (Jason Schwartzman), comes to them to learn why he keeps running into a tall African named Steve Nimieri (Ger Duany). However, the Jaffes discover that Albert’s problems are rooted in his work for the Open Spaces Coalition. It is an environmental organization that is fighting a giant retail chain, Huckabees, over the corporation’s plans to build a new mall in a marshland and wooded area.

The Jaffes’ work with Albert brings them other clients: Brad Stand (Jude Law), a PR guy for Huckabees who is feigning interest in Albert’s organization as a ploy to remove the troublesome do-gooder Albert as an obstacle to Huckabees building plans and Dawn Campbell (Naomi Watts), the beautiful face and spokesmodel of Huckabees, who is also Brad’s girlfriend and to whom Brad won’t commit. Meanwhile, Albert encounters a soul mate, Tommy Corn (Mark Wahlberg), an existential fireman who introduces Albert to Caterine Vauban (Isabelle Huppert), a French radical philosopher and former student of the Jaffes, who he claims will help Albert more than the Jaffes. It all adds to one big existential meltdown.

Admittedly, I Heart Huckabees is hard to follow. There is way more existential discussion in this film than practically any other film financed by a mainstream American studio. While I found Russell’s Three Kings to be off-putting at times, I Heart Huckabees totally engaged me. Not only is the script the most ingenious screenplay written outside of anything by written by Charlie Kaufman (Being John Malkovich), it is also witty and captivating. And the next best thing Russell does is allow his cast to have fun with their parts.

There are no great characters in this film. What is there is greatly played characters. Schwartzman, Hoffman, Ms. Tomlin, Law, and Wahlberg really dig into these roles and give them life, and they had to or the movie would collapse into utter nonsense. The characters aren’t deep or special, for that matter. They’re dealing with deep and weighty matters, and the actors seem to understand that. So their performances are not about chewing scenery or showing off their chops, but rather about playing ordinary people trying to deal with extraordinary and plaguing questions. The only really wacky characters are the Jaffes, and Hoffman and Lily Tomlin make them appealing to ordinary people, in spite of their sometimes creepy intrusiveness.

This film isn’t for everyone, but viewers who’ve tackled the work of David Lynch and Spike Jonze should be able to handle I Heart Huckabees. Liking it, however, is a whole ‘nother thing. Except for a few rough patches, I think this is brilliant and hilarious.

10 of 10

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