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I Heart Huckabees - my take

PostPosted: Mon May 16, 2005 10:35 pm
by howardschumann(d)

Directed by David O. Russell (2004)

David O. Russell's I Heart Huckabees is designed to make you laugh and/or think but does neither. It is a strip mall full of over simplified ideas, a cinematic discount store in which everything is for sale: interconnectedness, nihilism, sex, environmentalism, meaninglessness -- you pays your money and you takes your choice. An across-the-board hip satire that spoofs all sides: liberal activists, French intellectuals, self-help groups, Zen Buddhism, right wing Christians, and big business, the film spares nobody but touches nothing, leaving everyone looking slightly ridiculous. In trying to play everything for laughs, Huckabees ends up being bull session fodder, a film that lacks a coherent point of view, has no payoff, and propagates the lie that the world is so complicated that one point of view is as good as another.

In the film, Jason Schwartzman is Albert Markovski, a nerdy environmental activist who heads a protest group called the Open Spaces Coalition, involved in trying to protect a patch of marshland from being bulldozed by the Huckabees department store chain. When Albert begins to question a series of coincidences in his life involving a tall Sudanese man (Ger Duany), he engages a pair of so-called "existential detectives", Vivian and Bernard to sort out the meaning of the encounters and provide direction in his life. Played by veteran actors Lily Tomlin and Dustin Hoffman, the detectives attempt to "dismantle" Albert's ego, telling him that everything in the universe is interconnected and that we all part of the same blankie, but all Albert can imagine doing is hacking off the limbs of his enemies as he lies in a zipped body bag.

The investigation of Albert's case turns out to require surveillance of every aspect of his life, including his bathroom activities and his professional relationship with Brad Stand (Jude Law), a corporate honcho for the Huckabees Department Store chain. The soulless corporation is one of Russell's targets and he has crafted its perfect spokespersons in Brad and his girlfriend Dawn (Naomi Watts), the corporate poster girl. Brad has already prevailed in taking over much of the land and now seeks control of the coalition itself, using a public relations smile and vague promises of a sponsorship deal that will produce environmentally friendly television spots with singing star Shania Twain.

As part of the training, Albert is introduced to another of the detective's clients, a depressed firefighter Tommy (Mark Wahlberg), whose wife has just left him because of his outspoken antagonism to the petroleum industry. Both try to fit the detective's philosophy into their experience but are so frustrated with the lack of results that they turn to a French intellectual, Catherine Vauban (Isabelle Huppert), looking for better answers. What Ms. Vauban has to say, however, in an obvious spoof of the French Existentialists, is that life is full of drama and suffering, a random occurrence of events without structure or coherence, amounting to little more than cruelty, chaos, and meaninglessness. The two conflicting philosophies wage a
determined battle right to the final frame.

In I Heart Huckabees, Russell wants to show Hollywood that important questions can be dealt with in a film that also entertains and he deserves much credit for setting his sights high. Russell throws out a bunch of ideas, however, then rejects them all, setting up a false conflict between advocates of "pure being" and "everything is meaningless" in a flip treatment of subjects that may seem funny and clever to some but which, in this era of Bush II, many people take very seriously. All protagonists try to come to grips with their place in the world, but the characters are so dopey that you wonder if they would be able to figure out how to program a VCR, let alone unlock the secrets of the universe.

While the film raises many important questions, it looks for answers in the wrong places and key questions are not posed. What does it mean to be human? How does one operate in life to produce the maximum satisfaction? Who is responsible for our experience? Rather than looking at their life and seeing what works and what doesn't, the character's search is only for an abstraction, a belief system they think will provide the key. Without a larger context in which to hold its ideas, however, the film becomes a purely intellectual exercise that lacks emotional resonance. Mr. Russell has said, "Philosophy doesn't interest me, except in so far as it is practical and it makes you feel more alive. He should have heeded his own words.


Re: I Heart Huckabees - my take

PostPosted: Tue May 17, 2005 10:12 am
by trevor826
Wow Howard you've certainly gone in deep on this one, I just took it as an off the wall comedy which (as you say) "spoofs all sides" guess I'll have to watch it again.

Cheers Trev.

Re: I Heart Huckabees - my take

PostPosted: Mon May 23, 2005 3:18 pm
by howardschumann(d)
That was just my experience. I took it the way I took it and it rubbed me the wrong way.

Re: I Heart Huckabees - my take

PostPosted: Thu May 26, 2005 12:06 pm
by mikevan9
the film spares nobody but touches nothing...

That was exactly my experience. I don't if any of you have read Sharon Waxman's "Rebels from the Backlot," which profiles directors such as Russell, PTA, Tarantino, Jonze, Fincher, Soderbergh. But it sounds like I Heart Huckabees fits Russell's personality (a little crazy, interested in ideas, etc.). But that makes me wonder if he'll ever fulfill his promise. I'm a big fan of Three Kings and laughed a lot through Flirting With Disaster, but Huckabees makes me wonder if he's ever going to do something again that he truly cares about (like Three Kings).

Re: I Heart Huckabees - my take

PostPosted: Thu May 26, 2005 3:23 pm
by howardschumann(d)
I also liked Three Kings very much but was disappointed in Huckabees. I don't know anything about Russell but that book sounds interesting.

Re: I Heart Huckabees - my take

PostPosted: Fri Jul 08, 2005 9:16 pm
by A
I'm also on the liked Three Kings very much camp, and I've enjoyed Flirting with Disaster (though it wasn't that good), but I missed Huckabees in Cinema. I'm curious though, because of lots of mixed reviews. But my expectations are maybe too high, as I'm waiting for an even better film than Three Kings from Russell.