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I Heart Huckabees (2004)

I Love Huckabees, I Love Huckabees, I ♥ Huckabees

An existential comedy

Directed by:

David O. Russell

Rating: 8/10

Running Time: 106 minutes

US Certificate: R UK Certificate: 15

On DVD

Country: United States, Germany

Anyone who makes a film about a sexual relationship between a boy and his mother and derives its title from a colloquialism for male masturbation is clearly a director who wants you to sit up and take notice – and that is just what David O. Russell did with his feature debut ‘Spanking the Monkey’ (1994). There quickly followed his indie adoption farce ‘Flirting with Disaster’ (1996), and the more mainstream, but no less subversive, Gulf War adventure ‘Three Kings’ (1999) – and now Russell has turned his mind to no lesser topic than the meaning of life itself, and the result is the relentlessly off-the-wall ‘I ♥ Huckabees’, a deep plunge into the shallow end of existence, and a film whose quirky intelligence establishes him, along with Charlie Kaufman and Paul Thomas Anderson, as one of the most inventive writers working in cinema today.

At a time when idealistic young environmental activist and poet Albert Markovski (Jason ‘Rushmore’ Schwartzman) is at a crossroads in his life, he encounters the same mysterious African man (Ger Duany) on three separate occasions. Troubled by the coincidence and what it might (or might not) signify, he employs the metaphysical services of Bernard and Vivian Jaffe (Dustin Hoffman, Lily Tomlin), ‘existential detectives’ whose card Albert had found in the pocket of a jacket which he borrowed for a meeting with Brad Stand (Jude Law), an ambitious and unscrupulous executive at the superstore Huckabees who is hijacking Albert’s Open Spaces Coalition as part of a cynical ploy to make Huckabees – and himself – look good. The couple are convinced that Brad is at the heart of Albert’s existential crisis, and to help reinstate Albert’s ‘connection’ they buddy him up with another of their clients, Tommy Corn (Mark Wahlberg), an earnest fireman who has become convinced in the wake of 9/11 that all his own, and indeed the world’s, problems stem from the use of petroleum and America’s exploitation of the third world. Soon Albert’s nemesis Brad is also turning to the detectives, and although his motive is only to undermine Albert further, Brad and his girlfriend, Huckabees’ model Dawn Campbell (Naomi Watts), turn out to have genuine existential problems of their own. Meanwhile Albert and Tommy, dissatisfied with the Jaffes’ holistic theories of the interconnectedness of all things, decide to “go over to the other side” and consult the detectives’ arch-rival Caterine Vauban (Isabelle Huppert), a French nihilist who is not afraid to get down and dirty in the face of life’s cruel absurdities. And that is when things start to get really confusing.

‘I ♥ Huckabees’ is a philosophical mystery-comedy about just how crucially important and thoroughly inconsequential human existence is, and this paradoxical content is very much matched by its form. For it is a story in which nothing very much happens, but in a hilariously complicated way which seems strange and magical; and for all its madcap whimsy, the film still manages to pack a much more powerful intellectual and moral punch than, say, your average Hollywood blockbuster. ‘I ♥ Huckabees’ seems destined to divide its viewers along the lines of the two worldviews it seeks to dramatise and reconcile – some will be dazzled by the profound meaningfulness of everything in it, while others will fail to see any point to it at all – but either way, everyone can laugh at its bizarre lines and absurd situations, marvel at the performances from its extraordinary ensemble cast, and thrill at its breathless juggling of multiple storylines which may (or may not) all be connected. And in that way, this film is not a little like life itself.

It's Got: Existential detectives; a firefighter who has conscientious objections to riding in a fuel-guzzling firetruck; Shania Twain playing herself; Jason Schwartzman’s real mother Talia Shire playing his character’s mother; lines like “there is no remainder in the mathematics of infinity – there is only the blanket” delivered utterly straight; Dustin Hoffman using his own nose to illustrate the interconnectedness of the universe; Jason Schwartzman cementing his place, already established by starring in ‘Rushmore’ and ‘Spun’ (AND writing the theme song to television’s ‘The O.C.’), as the king of left-field indie; and, of course, everything and nothing.<

It Needs: An instruction manual (just like life)

DVD Extras Scene selection; optional English SDH; full audio commentary 1 (also available as subtitles) with writer/director David O. Russell on coming up with a title that makes you talk and think differently, on wanting to keep the audience a step behind, on his activism, the influence of Casablanca, Chinatown and The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, on bringing Dustin Hoffmans hair down, and how "there is something implicitly funny to me about reality"; full audio commentary 2 (also available as subtitles) with Russell, Mark Wahlberg, Jason Schwartzman and (briefly, via phone from New Zealand) Naomi Watts, in which Schwartzman gushes with praise for Hoffman ("hes the man") and his many acting tips, points out the weirdness of having sex with your underwear on, and mentions that Isabelle Huppert held him when he was one-year old, and Wahlberg proposes that Beyoncé Knowles be brought in for the sequel to make it "a bit more hiphop"; I Heart Huckabees Production doc (34min) behind-the-scenes footage and on-set interviews with Jude Law (in fake breasts), Wahlberg, Hoffman (also in fake breasts), Russell, Schwartzman (doing an uncanny Tom Cruise impression), Huppert, Lily Tomlin, Watts and Talia Shire; four extended/deleted scenes (18min) all watchable, but you can see why they did not make final cut; five outtakes (3min) mostly of characters hitting one another; miscellaneous things people did (4min) on-set clowning (including Schwartzmans impression of Arnold Schwarzenegger); six hilarious fake ads for the Open Spaces Coalition; featurette (13min) on multi-instrumentalist and boy genius Jon Punch Drunk Love Brion composing the amazing soundtrack; photomontage (4min) images from film and set; a surreal spoof infomercial (35min) for the Jaffes existential detective agency, in which Tomlin (knitting furiously) and Hoffman sit on sofas discussing the tenth dimension, consciousness and the cosmos with (real) professors Dr Robert Thurman and Dr Joseph Rudnick ("were gonna be talkin about neat fun ways you can rip your soul open"), occasionally interrupted by Jon Brion singing or spoof ads for Huckabees and the Open Spaces Coalition; music video (2min) for Jon Brions Knock Yourself Out. Version reviewed: 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment see also I Heart Huckabees (Two-Disc Special Edition) from Amazon.com DVD Extras Rating: 10/10

Summary

This intelligent and quirky trip beneath the surface of human existence is either a profound marvel or a meaningless absurdity – but either way, that’s life, and ain’t life funny!

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