I Heart Huckabees (R)
Fox Searchlight Picture
I Heart Huckabees is a spirited marathon talk-fest about the meaning of existence that's mildly entertaining for its duration. But the film is so stripped of emotional weight that an hour after leaving the theater, most viewers will forget they've seen it.
Jason Schwartzman (Rushmore) is Albert Markovski, a hyperactive environmentalist bent on saving the wetlands surrounding a new Huckabees superstore (Huckabees could be Wal-Mart, Kmart, Target, Home Depot; just think big box). When he is beset by a series of coincidences involving a tall African man, Albert seeks counsel with a duo of existential detectives, Bernard and Vivian Jaffe, played by Dustin Hoffman and Lily Tomlin.
At odds with Albert and his conservation plan is Huckabees' rising young exec Brad Stand, played by Jude Law. Stand has infiltrated the open spaces coalition Albert founded and is enticing the group with promises of environmentally friendly television spots featuring country superstar Shania Twain in exchange for their acceptance of a smaller piece of land.
Albert, faced with shedding his ego, enters a bizarre therapy with the Jaffes and is paired with another of their clients, Tommy Corn, an obsessive firefighter on a crusade against the omnipresence of petroleum in the modern world. Corn, played by Mark Wahlberg, barely functions beyond his rage and has secretly started working with the Jaffe's rival, French philosopher Catherine Vauban (Isabelle Huppert), a nihilist who forces Corn and Albert to face the meaninglessness and despair of their lives.
Against this framework, director David O. Russell (Three Kings) and screenwriters Russell and Jeff Baena have laid over a tight script that explores, if not existentialism, then the more Buddhist notion of interconnectedness, described by Bernard Jaffe as "the blanket thing," the thing that erases our borders and allows us to see ourselves as part of other beings.
It is an ambitious story, told as an absurd comedy that works in some places better than others. One subplot involving Brad/Law and his girlfriend, Huckabees model-spokesperson Dawn, played by Naomi Watts, falls flat. Dawn wants Brad to love her as she is, not as a marketable hottie, and takes to wearing overalls and a floppy Dutch farm-girl bonnet. This kind of hammering over the head to make the point crops up too frequently throughout the film
The performances, overall, are light and refreshing. Hoffman and Tomlin are the sort of middle-aged couple who finish each other's sentences while climbing in and out of windows, surveying their clients' lives, seeking a warm and fuzzy reconciliation. Law is particularly good in a scene where his character, Brad, is forced to shed his smooth-talking faade and jaw-cracking smile, only to find that he doesn't know who he is without his successful corporate identity. Schwartzman, with his stringy raven locks and manic energy, is perfectly cast as Albert, a true seeker who's handicapped by his own narrow, if politically correct, view of the world.
The surprise of the film is Marky Mark, er, Wahlberg, who takes on existential crisis with hilarious zeal. Tommy Corn's tirade on America's dependence on fossil fuels in a dinner scene with a self-righteous conservative Christian family is a real kick, as is most every scene in which Wahlberg appears.
It's nice to see films like this one and What the Bleep Do We Know? exploring themes beyond the gratuitous violence and dumbed-down glamour we usually get at the movies. But a movie that sticks requires a strong story and characters with emotional weight. By those standards, I Heart Huckabees is merely an admirable effort.
-- Kathryn Eastburn
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