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I Heart Huckabees | review | dvd | Lollipop
I Heart Huckabees
by Michelle Gajkowski
You don't have to be an expert or even be remotely interested in Nietzsche or Aristotle to find the philosophical satire I Heart Huckabees, written and directed by David O. Russel, an incredibly entertaining film. If you've ever questioned what your purpose in the world is, or why you keep seeing the same random stranger, you'll find yourself ready to take the crazy journey of life and love with the quirky all-star cast. Just beware not to take that journey seriously.
The search to answer life's big questions begins when Albert Markovski (Jason Schwartzman), an environmental activist who loves writing cheesy poetry, longs to know the significance of seeing the same African man in three very different situations. Through another random event, he finds the business card of two existential detectives, played wonderfully by Dustin Hoffman and Lily Tomlin, whom he seeks out to solve the coincidences. The detectives are more concerned with why Markovski is curious about the coincidences, though, than with why they actually occur. Their unorthodox methods of spying and "dismantling" oneself lead Markovski into a search for the meaning of "the universe, the big one." He joins forces with Tommy Corn (Mark Wahlberg), another man on a similar journey, who's rejected the detectives' beliefs and has begun using an opposing philosophy. At the same time, Markovski struggles to regain his authority at work, as he is being pushed out of his environmental campaign by Brad Stand (Jude Law) from the Huckabees Corporation.
The talented cast, both young and old, perfectly embodies their characters. If you thought Jude Law was charming in 1999's The Talented Mr. Ripley, then you won't be surprised to find him even more so in I Heart Huckabees as Brad Stand, a superficial business man who makes it big by schmoozing with his associates and using his boyish good looks to impress others. Often, Law seems to be typecast as the handsome charmer, but his versatile acting is again emphasized here with the depth he brings to Stand's process of self-realization and his conflict with Markovski. Isabelle Huppert's subtle facial expressions break her character's stiff French persona and bring to life Catherine Vauban, the existential detectives' truth-seeking nemesis, even if you sometimes have to strain to decipher her accent during her long dialogues.
While I Heart Huckabees is a whimsical spin on philosophy, it comically shows the reality of how we are all interconnected, especially in these times of globalization and high-speed technology. Wahlberg's character's obsession with all aspects of the petroleum issue is just one example of the underlying seriousness of the movie. Whether or not Russel wants the viewer to take the philosophies in his comedy seriously is another question. Much in the movie suggests that he does not. Each time you think the movie may be leading to the answer of life, Russel juxtaposes the scene with a somewhat disturbing and outlandish one, such as Markovski's visualization of himself as a baby sucking on Stand's lactating breast. This image of the two characters' bodies, obviously altered by a computer, is something you laugh at, not with. It's these scenes that you vividly picture at the end, not the meaningful questions that led to them. Also, Russel fills his screenplay with dialogue that mocks philosophy's quest for universal truth. For example, when Markovski feels that he's seen some of this truth he states, "It's like I'm a rock, or a dish of mold." His ridiculous simile is met with Corn's enthusiastic reply, "It is the answer."
Even so, through his characters, Russel does a superb job of taking the most improbable events and situating them in a world that is supposed to be real. As with Shakespeare, you can see traits of yourself and others in I Heart Huckabees' characters. It's easy to relate to Dawn Campbell's (Naomi Watts) physical insecurities and Markovski's naivety in judging other people's intentions. The characters are what make the movie work, because like our unscripted lives, the plot cannot be defined by a conflict, climax, and resolution. Instead, the movie follows its characters as they experience the same unpredictability and uncertainties of life that the viewer goes through outside of the movie theater. Like in Flirting With Disaster, Russel's 1996 comedy, the characters are on a journey to find their place in the world, and in the process, find themselves in the midst of humorous chaos.
I Heart Huckabees is a fun trip that makes you ask those silly questions about the strange workings of the world, but the film's humor shows you the futility in doing so.