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I Heart Huckabees (2004) Print E-mail
Friday, 01 October 2004
“I Heart Huckabees” covers a remarkable amount of turf. It is entirely up to date, yet in some ways, it’s reminiscent of a Robert Altman film, with its off-the-wall humor and ensemble cast (with Altman rep member Lily Tomlin prominently featured). It is smart, inventive, slightly surreal and oddly seductive as it envelops us in its skewed but familiar world views.

Ecological activist Albert Markovski (Jason Schwartzman) is absolutely miserable. He can handle fighting City Hall to save a neighborhood forest and marsh from an incursion by mega-store chain Huckabees, but when Huckabees corporate rep Brad Stand (Jude Law) first charms Albert, then co-opts his grassroots organization right out from under him, it’s just too much. In an attempt to figure out why his life is such a mess and what he ought to do about it, Albert enlists the services of “existential detectives” Vivian (Lily Tomlin) and Bernard (Dustin Hoffman), a married couple with differing yet similarly intrusive approaches, who believe in taking comfort from the interconnectedness of all things. When they suggest that Albert become buddies with another client, unhappy and martially separated fireman Tommy Corn (Mark Wahlberg), a tentative friendship blooms. Soon the detectives’ one-time student and current arch-nemesis Caterine Vauban (Isabelle Huppert) appears on the scene, intent on spreading her message of nihilism. Meanwhile, Brad decides he could do with some detection himself, which first bothers then overwhelms his model girlfriend Dawn (Naomi Watts).

Whimsy can be a dangerous thing in movies – not too many filmmakers have the right touch. However, director David O. Russell, who wrote the screenplay with Jeff Baena, displays a sly, gentle intelligence that keeps events lively and surprising. Unlike a lot of movies with eccentric characters, “I Heart Huckabees” identifies with them and enjoys them, rather than holding them up to ridicule, and Russell pulls off some outrageous moments (Albert’s fantasy images of Brad get progressively more and more bizarre) with a light touch. The film is a little like having a playful conversation with a smart, eccentric pal – it keeps asking, “And then what if …?” Part of the film’s charm is that as peculiar and manipulative as Vivian, Bernard and Caterine all are, “Huckabees” deep down thinks they’re all on to something in their way.

The cast is excellent, with Schwartzman conveying a load of resentment over a solid personality – he and the filmmakers pull off the rather tricky proposition of making Albert unhappy yet real enough for us to understand what’s going on as Brad gradually tries to co-opt his life. Law puts across Brad’s bright, successful corporate façade – we see why people respond to him – and the uneasiness behind it. Wahlberg contributes a sweet, plaintive turn as a man who desperately wants somebody to tell him what to do. Tomlin is indispensable – delightfully sure of herself and as improbable as the Cat in the Hat, yet never seeming arbitrary. The actress shows us someone who is driven by a powerful internal agenda, leaving us to guess what it might be.

“I Heart Huckabees” is original, deft fun that gives you something to talk about afterwards with your friends.

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