I Heart Huckabees (United States, 2004)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

After seeing two previews for David O. Russell's I Heart Huckabees, I had no idea what it was about. Now, having seen the movie, I still feel like I'm on the outside looking in. I certainly realize why the preview is so obtuse. There's no way that two minutes of snippets can begin to convey what this film is trying to do. In fact, in order to understand what's going on, you have to sit through all 105 minutes of the running time, and that's an experience that will try the patience of many mainstream movie-goers. It's no exaggeration to say that this movie is not for everyone.

What is Huckabees about? Four different individuals - an environmental activist, Albert (Jason Schwartzman); a fireman, Tommy (Mark Wahlberg); a TV commercial model, Dawn (Naomi Watts); and a corporate hot-shot, Brad (Jude Law) - employ new age philosophies in an attempt to bring meaning to their lives. The men and women peddling those philosophies are "Existential Detectives" Vivian and Bernard Jaffe (Lilly Tomlin and Dustin Hoffman), and their rival, author Caterine Vauban (Isabelle Huppert). After a number of false starts, enemies Albert and Brad, who are fighting over how the department store Huckabees will use a tract of open space, find common ground; and Dawn and Tommy discover new people to love.

Viewed from a dramatic perspective, Huckabees will have a lot of people scratching their heads. Where viewers get into trouble with this film is that they try to buy into its philosophical diatribe, believing it to be offering some kind of profound truth. Sure, there's an element of self-importance in the screenplay, but Huckabees is first and foremost a satire of cinematic pretentiousness. And, on top of that, it's occasionally just plain funny. Russell hasn't equaled the laugh-aloud quotient of Flirting with Disaster, but the way he throws zingers at the audience creates enough offbeat moments of humor to make Huckabees worth seeing even by those who don't understand a thing that Hoffman, Tomlin, and Huppert are saying.

Much of what appears on the surface to be deeply philosophical is, in fact, satirical. Huckabees does present a pair of competing life views - that everything is interconnected or that truth is derived only through pain and isolation - but observes that, in the case of these characters, neither approach is more obviously effective. Russell is openly critical of those self-righteous individuals who believe their way is "the" way. Instead of espousing the bizarre existential doctrines of his characters, he mocks them. If you don't understand all of the pseudo-psychological/philosophical mumbo-jumbo, you haven't missed the point. (If you do get everything, you may need to seek professional help.)

The performances are winning, and there are some standout comedic vignettes. Consider, for example, the sight of Lily Tomlin and Dustin Hoffman sneaking around, diving into garbage cans, and being sprayed by a sprinkler. Tomlin may have done this sort of thing before, but it's not what one expects from an actor of Hoffman's stature or reputation. And he does it with a smile. Or there's the tongue-in-cheek cameo by Shania Twain, who deserves some sort of "good sport" award for appearing after being subtly ridiculed throughout. Like all non-mainstream comedies, Huckabees can be considered an acquired taste. I'll admit that a lot of people are going to describe it as a waste of time, yet there's a likeability to the quirky characters that held my interest while tickling my funny bone.

I Heart Huckabees (United States, 2004)

Run Time: 1:46
U.S. Release Date: 2004-10-01
MPAA Rating: "R" (Profanity, Sexual Situations)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1