I Love Huckabees (2004) * 1/2
Directed by David O. Russell; written by Mr. Russell and Jeff Baena.Photography, Peter Deming. Editing, Robert K. Lambert. Music, Jon Brion.Production design, K. K. Barrett. Producers, D.O.Rusell, Gregory Goodman, Scott Rudin. A Fox Searchlight release. 105 minutes. Rated R. WITH: Dustin Hoffman (Bernard), Isabelle Huppert (Catherine), Jude Law (Brad Stand), Jason Schwartzman (Albert), Lily Tomlin (Vivian), Mark Wahlberg (Tommy Corn) and Naomi Watts (Dawn).
“Oh sweet mystery of life, at last I found you!” Well, not quite, in this film --in spite of the characters trying in sundry ways.
It is David O. Russell’s fourth movie. First came his unusual, audacious, risk-taking and very good “Spanking the Monkey.” Then the interesting. solid “Flirting With Disaster” followed by “Three Kings” set in the Gulf War, satisfactory though somewhat overrated. Now, the “Huckabees” film, while original is a puzzling, courageous work which not only has no mass appeal but can confound even “intellectual” viewers.
To start with a detail, the title is messy. The second word of “I Love” is not a real word but the image of a heart, like the “I Love New York” slogans. Alas, too many references to or reviews of the movie give it as “I Heart Huckabees”—which is super-nonsense.
As for Huckabees, it is the name of a large chain of big stores – and I wonder if its first letter was not, in the makers’ minds, not an H but something coarse. Whatever the case, this is a movie that’s sort of “philosophical,” “existentialist,” “psychological,” “intellectual, ”Zen,” and certainly messy. But alas all the hyphenated terms are wishful thinking rather than reality.
Albert (Schwartzman) is a militant conservationist-environmentalist and a “thinker” who a) does not know himself and b) as an employee of Huckabees is involved in a muddled affair in which the firm will salvage some land they own and on which another HuckaStore will rise. Albert is a messy, penniless, unkempt fellow. On the other hand, there’s Brand (Jud Law) high up in Huck-Hierarchy, chic, well-paid, the lover of Huckabees model Dawn (Naomi Watts) and presumably the contact man on Albert’s project. He’s also a traitor.
Albert, in the throes of the meaning of life, runs several times into a handsome, very tall African who appears in unconnected locations and in different garb and duties . Those very weird coincidences cause Albert to consult the “existential detective agency” (sic) of Vivian (Lily Tomlin) and her husband Bernard (Dustin Hoffman.) What they do for Albert is summed up for the film viewer in three words: “Don’t Ask.”
Soon, oddball fireman Tommy Cord ( Mark Wahlberg) gets involved in Albert’s seeking (for what? search me!). Eventually the two “detectives” are joined by their former student Catherine, from Paris, France, who is a nihilist. Now that’s interesting.
The French lady is played by superstar Isabelle Huppert. She has been in dozens of movies of all kinds and, while I have not tabulated things, she holds the record of showing up fully or partly naked in “serious” films. Here she does not. However, she does have sex with Albert on a fallen, muddy tree trunk. Honor is saved!
It is pointless to dwell on the Huckabees movie “intellectual,” “philosophical” and “post-modern,” sides. “Existential” it is a term that has a long history, but means zero to the masses of moviegoers. Generally, the minorities that do throw around this word do so meaninglessly. What is clear is that in this movie all jargons are also used for broad, often slapsticky laughs.
The film has had very mixed reviews. In my case I found it so pretentious, dull and boring, that I kept looking at the illuminated dial of my watch. Eventually its battery ran down.