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One of the biggest influences for the ideas presented in David O.
Russell's 'I Heart Huckabees' was 9/11. He is quoted as saying in Film
Comment Magazine, 'For about two months after 9/11, people were asking
really profound questions about reality and existence-and then it was
back to business as usual.' Indeed this seems to be the case whenever
bad things seem to happen in life as people search for the reasoning
behind the events and for a meaning to their own existence.
Disillusionment often takes place for many affected by tragedy, as has
happened to the characters in 'I Heart Huckabees.' From an activist
fighting urban sprawl to a firefighter blaming the worlds ills on
petroleum hungry nations, 'I Heart Huckabees' presents profound
questions about existence with a unique comic approach.
After seeking the reasoning behind a coincidental meeting, Albert (Jason Schwartzman), an activist/poet, seeks the help of some existential detectives, Bernard and Vivian (Dustin Hoffman and Lily Tomlin). They agree to study his case by spying on his every day activity and getting into his psyche. In an attempt to help Albert seek answers to his profound questions, Bernard and Vivian join Albert with a disillusioned firefighter named Tommy (Mark Whalberg) who seeks answers to the same questions on life. However, Tommy has a strong bias that all the world's problems result from the exploitation of petroleum. During their investigation into Albert's life, Bernard and Vivian realize that Albert's problems often stem from his struggle to fight the Huckabees Corporation from building on the lands Albert tries in vain to protect- particularly with a corporate salesman named Brad (Jude Law). As Bernard and Vivian further investigate, they realize that Brad and his girlfriend Dawn (Naomi Watts), the sexy image behind Huckabees advertising, have a few of their own existential problems to deal with. Especially Dawn who is completely disillusioned by her own beautiful image, as well as Brad's phony persona. Two schools of thought come into play. One, Bernard and Vivian's viewpoint that everything is connected and the world is not a negative place, but chooses not to deal with its problems. On the other hand, Tommy believes in the viewpoints of a French author named Caterine Vauban (Isabell Huppert) who says that the world is simply a mess, pain and anger are present and the only way to deal with it is to just except it. So who is right and who is wrong? The film's message is that neither is truly wrong or right, but the two must meet somewhere in the middle. What's more, perceptions have an important role in this film. Life is often what you make it. A person can be a phony individual and simply jump on the bandwagon of what is popular to seek approval and acceptance. Or, they could ask themselves if they really believe in certain viewpoints and question the right and wrong that exists in our complex, modern world.
At first glance, with the film's slapstick, yet witty intellectual dialogue combined with unique visuals, it would seem that this is the product of Charlie Kaufman. But Russell's ideas are undeniably his own and have been pondered upon in his mind for years. The director of the Gulf-War drama/comedy, 'Three Kings,' and 'Flirting with Disaster' has made one of 2004s best films. 'I Heart Huckabees' is filled with three-dimensional characters and crisp-sounding dialogue that will leave you chuckling hours after seeing the film. Most importantly, it has ideas that most Hollywood executives fear to take on because of our very conventional societal viewpoints. ****
There is only one word I can use to describe this "existensial comedy"
by David O. Russell: insane. Here is a comedy with no real rules. A
sense of brilliant madness lurks within every scene. Emotions run wild,
actions are poorly motivated, people have no idea just what the hell
they are doing! This is to be said about certain characters played by
Jason Schwartzman, Jude Law, Mark Wahlberg, and Naomi Watts. These are
characters who are in deep need of answers to their existence, and who
are playing with ideas that they are not quite ready to tackle. But
then you have Dustin Hoffman, Lily Tomlin, and Isabelle Huppert just
kind of watching by the sidelines as the more experienced characters.
By the end of the movie I couldn't help but think of how many other
clients of theirs went through similar conflicts. That's the ultimate
punchline. What a delight I Heart Huckabees is!
This is in no way at all your average comedy. Many philosophical theories are brought up throughout the film, but it's all done in a "fun" way. The film doesn't follow and preach any of the theories, only its characters do. I thought that was important because, well, that's what makes it so funny. It does not take itself seriously.
The acting is very...interesting. You have the younger actors like Wahlberg and Schwartzman really, really trying hard in hilariously over-the-top performances. To the exact opposite of that, you have Hoffman and Tomlin who don't even really try that hard at all. They don't have to. They're pros- actor wise and character wise. This imbalance in mood just adds and adds to the overflowing madness of I Heart Huckabees.
There is a lot of things wrong with the movie that seem to make it funnier and all the more enjoyable to watch. I had a smile on my face through the whole thing. I Heart Huckabees is indeed an acquired taste. People will love it, people will hate it, people will be totally indifferent to it, but I have no doubt that it will find its following.
My rating: 8/10
Giving credence to the phrase "everything old is new again." I HEART
HUCKABEES is a pleasing throwback to the 1960's. Not unlike Mike
Myers's pop-edelic Austin Powers sagas, HUCKABEES is as much a taste of
nostalgia as it is a pleasurable respite from the blood-soaked Quentin
Tarantino legacy of the 1990's (which fittingly enough is little more
than a dirtied up version of the tough-guy B-movies of the 1950's).
At any rate, HUCKABEES is a clear descendant of films like MORGAN!, LORD LOVE A DUCK, YOU'RE A BIG BOY NOW, HAROLD AND MAUDE, not to mention THE GRADUATE and a variety of other films that feature disillusioned young men trying to find meaning to life and purpose in existence in a world of absurdity. Not surprisingly, I suppose, once again America is in a troubled war, political protest is almost tiresomely routine and society is defined by extreme political, social and ethical differences. At a time when we are bombarded from an untold number of sources about how we should talk, think and act (left-wing politically correct conformity strangely mirroring the right-wing cold war conformity of the 1950's), HUCKABEES turns to a radically old-fashioned concept: Go figure it out for yourself.
In a press release for HUCKABEES, director David O. Russell writes "Philosophy interests me only insofar as it is practical and makes people feel more alive and open -- not closed." As such HUCKABEES doesn't seem so much aimed at presenting Russell's personal philosophy so much as musing over some of the possibilities. The film revolves around Albert Markovski (played by Jason Schwartzman, as sort of Russell's surrogate), a not-particularly-successful environmentalist. Albert has a rivalry with/ friendship to /hatred of /crush on Brad Strand (Jude Law), a corporate cog who works for Huckabees, a Wal-Mart-like chain wanting to place a new store on a plot of landscape that Albert is doing a rather poor job of protecting. For different reasons, they both turn to "existential detectives" Bernard and Vivian Jaffe, (Dustin Hoffman and Lily Tomlin), who presumably investigate/stalk their clients to figure out what makes them tick. Basically, Bernard and Vivian are a conscience for hire. Hot on Bernard and Vivian's heels is Caterine Vauban (Isabell Huppert), an ex-pupil turned rival, who is bent on spreading the word that life is meaningless and valueless.
In battling for Albert's psyche, if not his soul, the two factions offer conflicting views of the world. Bernard argues that life is a blanket, one interconnecting fabric of existence where all things are related. Caterine offers a world of random chaos where values are arbitrary. Being versus nothingness. Responsibility versus indifference. Hope versus despair. Light versus dark. Good versus evil.
As philosophy, it is probably pretty simplistic, but philosophy isn't the point so much as the absurdity of life which makes it so difficult to keep one's bearings. If Albert (and Russell) never quite cut through the chaos and ultimately only find peace through compromise, that is probably the best anyone can really hope for. But like any movie (or mystery or therapy) the ending is possibly not necessarily as important as the journey getting there. Which is a good thing for HUCKABEES because the film gradually peters out, but it is an unpredictable ride, shared with oddball characters, while it lasts.
And it is something of a sentimental journey. I doubt it is entirely a coincidence that Schartzman bears more than a passing resemblance to a youthful Hoffman (in a Beatles' haircut, no less), whose performance in THE GRADUATE will forever grant him iconic status as a symbol of the 1960's. HUCKABEES echoes many of the themes from that 1968 landmark film: the questioning of prevailing values, battling consumerism, searching for identity and, last but not least, seduction by an older woman.
Though not entirely successful, there is something just so wonderfully refreshing about I HEART HUCKABEES. It is a film that tries to be about ideas, without being self-consciously pretentious, like Woody Allen. It flirts with the sweetness of a Spielberg film, but in the humanistic style of a Robert Altman, but without his souring streak of cynicism. But most of all it stays miles away from the cold-blooded nihilism of Scorsese, Tarantino and the bunch. This is a film without villains, only comrades who, to one degree or another, are searching for peace of mind.
Albert Markovski (Jason Schwartzman - Rushmore) is an urban guerrilla.
A freedom fighter against Urban Sprawl and Corporate-sponsored
Over-Development. At least this is how he likes to think of himself. In
reality he's a self-obsessed insecure neurotic, and his environmental
action group 'Open Spaces' is having little success in the face of
their nemesis, the Huckabees corporation. That is until Brad Stand
(Jude Law) steps in. As the caring face of Huckabees he sets up a
co-operative group with 'Open Spaces' and shows that corporate entities
and environmental groups can work together for the good of the
Again, that's how Brad likes to think of his work but he's not a happy man. His mental wellbeing is unravelling, his home life is not good, and his work is beginning to suffer. His wife is Dawn Campbell (Naomi Watts - Mulholland Drive), she is the gorgeous face, body and voice of the Huckabees corporation. That is until she discovers that life is meaningless, we are all simply atoms caught up in a never-ending cycle, and identity is an illusion.
She discovers this through the work of Bernard (Dustin Hoffman) and Vivian (Lily Tomlin), a husband and wife existential detective agency. They are hired by Albert to investigate why he feels so empty in his life, and to answer his number one question - what is the meaning of life. They observe him 24 hours a day and investigate all other relationships in his life. This leads them to Dawn, who starts wearing dungarees and a babies bonnet after their "treatment".
Meanwhile Tommy Corn (Mark Wahlberg - Boogie Nights) is a client of Bernard's and Vivian's agency. He is going through a crisis. An ex-pupil of Bernard and Vivian's, a Russian Nihilist Existentialist called Caterine Vauban (Isabelle Huppert) has sent him her book, on why Nihilism holds the answers he seeks. He comes to believe this is correct and Bernard and Vivian believe he needs the help of an "existential partner" and introduces him to Albert. He try's to convince Albert Nihilism is the way forward, but Albert falls in love with Caterine and finds out it isn't.
Being billed as an "Existential Comedy" I've been meaning to see 'I Heart Huckabees since it was originally released about 6 months ago, but never got round to it. Totally kicking myself now cause it was absolutely superb. Awesome soundtrack, inventive and original cinematography, some amazing performances and most importantly a great story. Directed and co-written by David O. Russell (along with Jeff Baena) who last gave us 'Three Kings', the well-received anti-war comedy drama set in the first Iraq war. I personally didn't think 'Three Kings' lived up to the hype, an enjoyable film sure, but not particularly ground breaking or terribly thought provoking.
'I Heart Huckabees' blows 'Three Kings' away, the dialogue has so many levels it's hard to peel them away, but as Bernard teaches "it's all connected". The soundtrack is from the always-awesome Jon Brion who has given us the great music to some of the best films of recent years such as 'Magnolia', 'Punch Drunk Love' and 'Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind'. The performances are powerhouses, Law and Watts both standing out as two of the finest young actors in the world today. Watts steals the show thought, surpassing her turn in one of my all-time faves, 'Mulholland Drive'. The film's main theme is one of anti-corporatism, but it isn't so pervasive as to effect the overall upbeat feeling of enlightenment and acceptance the film immerses us in.
The best part of the film for me was the inventive use of the visuals to perfectly illustrate scientific and philosophical ideas. It's pure eye candy, sections of the film peeling away, mixing with other areas of the screen to form new pictures, showing us how everything can be deconstructed. We are all the same. It's all just atoms, identity is an illusion, we are all connected.
'I Heart Huckabees' is released on DVD in the UK today.
I have to agree with the reviewer who said this film will appeal to a
very narrow audience.
If you are a philosophy major or just a major black-clad espresso drinker, you'll probably resent the movie for "dumbing down" existentialism. If you're a regular person looking for a regular comedy to enjoy, please, trust me, skip this film.
But if you're philosophically curious, acquainted with Camus, and like a little vertigo with your comedy, run, do not walk, and pick up this film. For that narrow group, and by no means are they an elite, this is the ultimate feel-good film.
Wow. I left the theater at a loss for words. What the heck?
What I saw was one of the best movies this year. I don't even know where to begin in describing it. I laughed a lot at all the subtle humor and timing, and placement. The acting by the entire cast is spectacular.
This movie is not for all and probably only for a very small group of people because the elitist snobs will bash it for simplifying and "hollywood-izing" the philosophy too much, and the average joe will complain that its too weird and boring to understand.
The thing is with this movie, you will either get it or not. Simple as that. I definitely "got" it, and I'm grateful I did because it was an amazing trip.
It is a breath of fresh air to find a movie so original. Some may be turned off by the movie and possibly find it pretentious but it's not. It pokes fun of existentialism a bit while at the same time making you think about it realistically. The movie didn't make me laugh out loud as much as other comedies but I had a smile on my face the entire time watching it. If you don't take it too seriously and get the humor you will really enjoy it. I had a smile on my face the entire time. The comedic timing by all of the principal cast is right on target. I definitely recommend it. Not only is it funny, but it does make you think a little while not being pretentious. Russell hit it dead on with this one.
This film was amazing. I'm still not sure if I've completely figured it out, but I thoroughly enjoy the attempt. The entire trip was something fully unexpected from the barrage of F-bombs that makes up the first five minutes to the alluded to (but nonetheless unexpected) cameo of Shania Twain. It's near impossible to explain what the film is actually about in this space, so you'll have to settle for this: The always hilarious Lily Tomlin and the wonderful Dustin Hoffman play a couple of "existential detectives" hired by Jason Schwartzman (in perhaps his best role) to investigate a series of "coincidences" involved a very tall African man. Schwartzman is the head of an environmentalist group trying to make a deal with the Huckabees department store to save a marsh (Jude Law plays the Huckabees exec and Naomi Watts his wife--a Huckabees commercial model). Mark Wahlberg shows one of his best performances thus far as a fireman who has also hired the "existential duo" for help with the Big Questions. Jon Brion provides yet another truly original score (not as eccentric and beautiful as Eternal Sunshine, but definitely more involved than Punch Drunk Love). In short, this film is a masterpiece for everyone involved.
It isn't often that a movie provokes thought as well as laughter, but
"I Heart Huckabees" manages to hit both marks.
This movie is about the search for answers to questions that most of the characters don't seem to know they're asking. And their guides along the way, deftly portrayed by Hoffman, Tomlin and Huppert stir the pot of confusion in this boiling mess of angst, deception and discontent. And it's funny! While the performances by Schwartzman, Law and Wahlberg (sounds like a law firm) were wonderful and engaging, the real star of this movie is the writing. It's very thoughtful without being heavy-handed. And the humor manages to take material that usually comes across as pretentious and makes it palatable for common-folk like myself.
This is a great movie if you're in the mood to revive in your mind the ultimate questions "who are we?", "what are we?", "why are we?" At the age of 41 I'd pretty much put those questions to bed, but it was fun to wake that sleeping part of myself and ponder while having a lot of laughs along the way.
See this movie.
Complaints about the writing and acting in this movie remind me of
when, as an usher at a large church, I overheard the comments of the
parishioners after the service. The minister had delivered a plea that
we search our souls, but all these people could find to talk about was
what she was wearing, or the style of her hair. If you walk into this
movie thinking of yourself as a student in a film studies class
(especially Hollywood films), you are going to find plenty to complain
But the real purpose of this movie is not to snag an Oscar, or even entertain you. And despite its attempts at 'explaining' life, it is not to convince you of any particular philosophy, either. It is, rather, to inveigle you to question your own motives for your behavior in life, and thus your basic presumptions about what you are doing here in the first place. Not a small task; the human psyche constructs many layers of defense, and it is in penetrating these defenses that psychologists spend most of their efforts. The humor in this movie helps break through some of the defenses.
Perhaps you believe you have no use for a psychologist. Brad Stand (Jude Law) didn't either, except to rationalize in his own mind his duplicitous self-serving behavior. But once 'existential detectives' Dustin Hoffman and Lily Tomlin are on the case, there's no getting rid of them until all the dark corners have been exposed. That's both the bad news and the good news. Bad news because all his ploys are exploded. Good news, because now he can start to live a real life.
After all the trailing credits have rolled, what remains on the screen is the single line in the movie that sums it all up: 'How am I not myself?' A question asked throughout the ages, it is not meant to have an answer but, like a good koan, to create an infinitely deep inbox in your mind that you fill as you go through your days. e.e. cummings said it isn't easy to be nobody but yourself, but it's worth it. If you are more concerned about living a genuine life and less about cinematic perfection, this movie is, too.
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