I HEART HUCKABEES
Environmental activist and poet Albert Markovski (Jason Schwartzman) is fighting with department store Huckabees executive Brad Stand (Jude Law) over the exploitation of a piece of land. A series of coincidences lead Albert to the offices of Existential Detectives Bernard and Vivian Jaffe (Dustin Hoffman, Lily Tomlin), who delve into their clients' lives by following them closely, observing the minutiae in their everyday lives. Albert meets Tommy (Mark Wahlberg), another client who is also going through a crisis, and they become friends. Then Brad and his Huckabees poster-girl girlfriend Dawn (Naomi Watts) also become clients, with Dawn questioning the superficial nature of their relationship. Meanwhile, Albert and Tommy meet French novelist and therapist Caterine Vauban (Isabelle Huppert), whose methods are totally contrary to those of Bernard and Vivian.
Review by Louise Keller:
I have no idea what the film is really all about, but this top line cast makes it so much fun, it doesn't seem to matter. A group of mixed up, screwy characters cross paths in their search for the meaning of life. There's Jason Schwartzman's attention-seeking environmental activist Albert, Jude Law's ambitious retail-store executive Brad, his live-in model girl friend Dawn (Naomi Watts) and Mark Wahlberg's sensitive fireman Tommy, who all start to scratch beneath the gloss of their ambitions, relationships, inhibitions and successes. Their guides are eccentric Existential Detectives (Dustin Hoffman and Lily Tomlin), who exercise unconventional methods to investigate their clients, and rival French consultant Caterine (Isabelle Hupert) whose methods are equally left of field, but at the other end of the spectrum. The detectives are not searching for hidden secrets, but subliminal thoughts and triggers for emotional responses and what prompts their state of being.
Three Kings writer/director David O'Russell presents this madcap scenario with such seriousness, it is easy to be seduced into thinking that there is some deep and meaningful social statement here. Essentially the film is a satire about the big and small things of life and how we deal with all of it. But it is not necessary to get too bogged down by philosophy; the main entertainment comes from watching the charismatic cast squeezing every single drop of entertainment juice out of the characters.
Coincidence is both the trigger and the means that leads Schwartzman's Albert to the office of the Existential Detectives. We have never seen Dustin Hoffman like this before - his detective Bernard is like a dishevelled absent-minded professor oblivious to everything except his own fanaticism. His methods are bizarre; as a new patient, Albert is zipped into a coffin-like black bag for reflection, in order to allow everything in his life to find its perspective. The cast members are so diverse that much of the joys come from their very contrasting and conflicting nature and physical appearance. Schwartzman's dark physicality is contrasted by Law's sun-kissed handsome features. Watts spends the first half of the film wearing a bikini and a plastic smile, before trading it in for a no-make up Amish bag-lady look. The fastidious nature of Hoffman and Tomlin's detectives is at odds with Hupert's nature-loving free-spirit, who thinks nothing of dipping her face into a muddy puddle.
I Heart Huckabees is frothy lightweight fun. There are some laugh out loud situations, but most of the humour is the kind you digest slowly.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
If you hold up a blanket (a sheet will do, if you're feeling tired by the weight of life) and look in the mirror, you'll see that everything's connected. The blanket is the universe, that's how and that's why. Your left hand may be way over there, but it's connected to your right. OK, that wasn't a great analogy, because they really are ... Look, this is existential stuff and Dustin Hoffman is better at explaining, in his Bernard persona.
He and his wife Vivian help the likes of environmental activist and poet Albert Markovski (Jason Schwartzman) with problems like coincidence. Albert has seen a tall black dude three times now, all in different circumstances. What does it mean!!?? His brain screams.
Albert and Vivian work the wacky side of the detective street - the existential side. This is where you go to solve life's conundrums about your psyche belching all over you, for instance. These two characters are the high concept part of David O. Russell's outrageously anti-static film. And Hoffman and Tomlin deliver the goods with aplomb and style, a twinkle in their eye and a flash of genius in the presentation.
Among the conflicts in this film are the environment and big business/petroleum products, vanity and generosity, self and society, power and manipulation, and that's before you get to existentialism and the unknowable workings of the universe. But they try....
The humour crackles like static electricity, and the details of the film's production design are entertainment in themselves, such as Albert's study, with its giant blackboard framed like a work of art, because it is...chalk rectangles crammed onto every inch of the surface. Until Albert leans his back on it and the artwork is ghosted onto his jacket.
There are many moments of such double sided humour, and all the performances are fresh, credible and edgy, even when treading on some of the big toes of the human condition - like emotional abandonment (that's a big one, keep an eye out for it).
The title should read I Love Huckabees, of course. The famous original use of a heart in promoting New York, wasn't read out loud as I Heart New York, was it? (This is not an existential test.) But some jerk in marketing started the bad ball rolling by describing the heart shape that was the title's bid for uniqueness. We don't have a heartshaped letter on our keyboard, so you'll have to put up with Heart. That's life, isn't it Albert?
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I HEART HUCKABEES (M)
CAST: Jason Schwartzman, Isabelle Huppert, Dustin Hoffman, Lily Tomlin, Jude Law, Mark Wahlberg, Naomi Watts
PRODUCER: Gregory Goodman, Scott Rudin, David O. Russell
DIRECTOR: David O. Russell
SCRIPT: David O. Russell, Jeff Baena
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Peter Deming
EDITOR: Robert K. Lambert
MUSIC: Jon Brion
PRODUCTION DESIGN: K.K. Barrett
RUNNING TIME: 106 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Fox
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: December 16, 2004
VIDEO DISTRIBUTOR: Fox Home Entertainment
VIDEO RELEASE: April 20, 2005
RIVERSIDE SCREEN PREMIERES
A program of premiere screenings of new movies prior to their commercial release
on 6 consecutive Tuesdays, starts February 17, 2015 at Riverside Theatre,
Curated & presented by Andrew L. Urban, discussion to
follow with special guests. Briefing notes provided.