Heart for heart's sake
Heart it or hate it, "I Heart Huckabees" is a modest piece of would-be intellectual entertainment, ultimately as fluffy as the cute little heart symbol it winkingly adopts.
By DAVID N. BUTTERWORTH
Lovers (hearters?) of David O. Russell, the unconventional writer/director
of "Three Kings," "Flirting with Disaster," and "Spanking the Monkey," have
learned to embrace wackiness as part of the filmmaker's cinematic oeuvre, but
wacky doesn't even begin to describe his latest foray, the self-hailed "existential
comedy" "I Heart Huckabees."
Actually, wacky does begin to describe the film. And continues to describe
it. And ends up describing it. Some might say wacky is all the film is: deliberately
so, plainly so, incoherently and quite possibly redundantly so. But is it good
wacky or is it bad wacky (and might one person's former be another person's
|I HEART HUCKABEES|
|Directed by: David O. Russell.|
Written by: David O. Russell, Jeff Baena.
Cast: Jason Schwartzman, Isabelle Huppert, Dustin Hoffman, Lily Tomlin, Jude Law, Mark Wahlberg, Naomi Watts, Angela Grillo, Ger Duany, Darlene Hunt, Kevin Dunn, Benny Hernandez, Richard Appel, Benjamin Nurick, Jake Muxworthy, Pablo Davanzo, Matthew Muzio, Shawn Patrick, Patrick M. Walsh, Tippi Hedren.
Cinematography: Peter Deming.
Edited by: Robert K. Lambert.
Related links: Official site | All of David N. Butterworth's reviews at Rotten Tomatoes
More to the point: Is "I Heart Huckabees" simply wacky for wacky's sake?
I seem to think so. Is that necessarily a bad thing? If the alternatives
include watching Jimmy Fallon and Queen Latifah yucking it up in a New York
taxicab I most definitely think not.
In "Huckabees," environmental activist Albert Markovski (Jason Schwartzman),
head of the grassroots Open Spaces Coalition, is unnerved by a series of inexplicable
coincidences involving a tall African and hires a husband-and-wife team of "existential
detectives" (Lily Tomlin and Dustin Hoffman) to figure out what, if anything,
it all means. This investigation also re-examines Albert's adversarial relationship
with Brad Stand (Jude Law), an executive for the Huckabees chain of Target-like
superstores. (Brad has his corporate sights greedily set on a little pocket of
terra firma that Albert has cordoned off ahead of the commercial giant's bulldozer.)
Throw "the voice of Huckabees," Brad's perfect girlfriend with perfect girlfriend
issues (Naomi Watts, delightfully dimpled), into the mix, plus a petroleum-denouncing
fireman (Mark Wahlberg) and a vitriolic French therapist (Isabelle Huppert),
and you've got a recipe for one serious nut job.|
Goodness knows what these performers thought of the script (co-written
by Jeff Baena) when they first read it, but nevertheless each and every one throws
himself or herseelf into the project whole "Heart"-edly, with only Hoffman (impaired
by his Fab Four haircut) and Huppert (impaired by her poor command of the English
language) coming up short. Law, all toothy plasticity, and Tomlin, with her
quickening wit and withering gaze, give their very best, and Schwartzman (whose
name you might remember from Wes Anderson's "Rushmore" he played the prodigy
Max Fischer) is appropriately frustrated and perplexed as Albert.
What does it all mean? It's hard to tell, unless it's a pseudo-intellectual
satire of pseudo-intellectualism, in which case it probably means everything
(or nothing), but there are plenty of laughs to be had here even if you wind
up dazed and confused amid the boundless existential soul-searching.|
In its drive for metaphysical humor, "I Heart Huckabees" manages to ask
a lot of big, earthy questions about the Nature of the Universe and the Meaning
of Life. But the burning question it fails to ask, let alone answer, is just
when did we all start pronouncing that little love symbol as "heart"? (We used
to love New York; now we heart Shih-Tzus!) Like the film's pieces of celluloid
imagery that fall, mosaic-like, at perfunctory moments we've long since stripped
this sanguine sign of its warmth and feel-good emotion in short its human connection and
come to recognize it simply as the shape of things.
Maybe that, when all is said and done, is what "Huckabees" is about.
|NOVEMBER 7, 2004|
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