I Heart Huckabees
August 18, 2005
“We’re not in infinity, we’re in the suburbs.” – Albert
I Heart Huckabees (2004) is a strange movie. After satirically skewering the U.S.’ involvement in the first Gulf War with Three Kings (1999), David O. Russell took some time off to regroup and recover after a grueling shoot. He returned with a vengeance last year with one of the most challenging movies to be backed by a major studio in recent years. Calling it an absurdist comedy doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of this complex movie.
Activist Albert Markovski (Schwartzman) hires two existential detectives, a husband and wife team (Hoffman and Tomlin channeling Nick and Nora from The Thin Man movies) to investigate the reality of his life and the ultimate truth of it all. Albert is a member of the Open Spaces coalition, an environmental activist organization fighting suburban sprawl which puts them at odds with a chain department store known as Huckabees. It reminds one of Target or Kohl’s, complete with a sexy, yet bland spokesperson Dawn Campbell (Watts).
Brad Strand (Law) is a sales executive for the store and this places him direct opposition with Albert. So, he decides to co-opt a meeting with Open Spaces (Albert wanted corporate sponsorship to take his cause to a higher level) and not only usurps Albert’s authority but also reduces group’s cause to a glossy ad with Shania Twain.
Meanwhile, Tom Corn (Wahlberg) is a very confused firefighter suffering from an existential crisis and pondering if being is truly nothingness. He is angered by how much our lives are governed by petroleum and isn’t afraid to let everyone know it. The existential detectives soon bring him together with Albert and they become fast friends as they help each other with their respective dilemmas.
Jude Law brings a deliciously glossy charm to his character, complete with a what-me-worry? smile permanently affixed to his face. He demonstrates excellent comic timing and is not afraid to make fun of himself. In the last year he has shown an amazing versatility with the romantic comedy Alfie, the dramatic weight of Closer and the science fiction/fantasy, Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow.
The star-studded cast fearlessly dives into their roles but the real stand-out is Mark Wahlberg who delivers the strongest performance as an angry guy who suffers from post-9/11 stress. He’s cast wonderfully against type and fits right in with the eclectic cast of this odd film.
I Heart Huckabees is in the same absurdist tradition of Robert Altman’s Brewster McCloud (1970) or the little seen Elliot Gould film, Little Murders (1971). Like these movies, Huckabees follows its own internal logic and assumes that the audience will stick with the film even if they don’t understand what exactly is happening or why. This is definitely a movie that requires repeated viewings if only to absorb all of the ideas that it examines and the questions that is poses.
Huckabees gleefully thumbs its nose at conventional narrative filmmaking by being a philosophical comedy that throws out a lot of fascinating ideas and asks a lot of interesting questions. As the characters struggle with weighty issues so the film struggles with weighty themes. Whether either is successful is left up the viewer to decide. If you come away from Huckabees thinking about a couple of them then this film has done its job.
There is an audio commentary by writer/director David O. Russell. He describes the characters as “following a cause beyond convention.” He chose the title because it forces you to talk differently and hopefully to think differently. Russell talks about working with his talented cast and how he wrote roles specifically for Jason Schwartzman, Mark Wahlberg, Lily Tomlin and Dustin Hoffman. He elaborates on what we are watching which helps if you are mystified by this movie.
The second commentary features Russell again, this time joined by Schwartzman and Wahlberg with Naomi Watts edited in separately. Schwartzman recounts amusing anecdotes about making the movie and keeps things light. Russell’s comments tend to overlap somewhat from his solo track. Wahlberg chimes in occasionally, usually when his character is on-screen.