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I ♥ Huckabees /

Rated: R

Starring: Jude Law, Naomi Watts, Mark Wahlberg, Dustin Hoffman, Lily Tomlin

Directed by: David O. Russell

Produced by: David O. Russell, Scott Rudin, Gregory Goodman
Written by:
David O. Russell, Jeff Baena
Distributor: Fox Searchlight Pictures


Isabelle Huppert and Jason Schwartzman in Fox Searchlight's I Heart Huckabees
Lily Tomlin and Dustin Hoffman in Fox Searchlight's I Heart Huckabees
Jude Law and Naomi Watts in Fox Searchlight's I Heart Huckabees

“You can't deal with my infinite nature, can you?”
“That is so not true. Wait…what does that even mean?”

     That exchange of dialogue, between partners Dawn Campbell (Naomi Watts) and Brad Stand (Jude Law), in I ♥Huckabees, kind of summarizes how I felt about the entire motion picture. It is a film that works within its own confines perfectly; as I watched it, I felt as though I understood all of the characters, their motives, and their actions. However, when I stopped to think about it, in the car, on the way home from the screening that I attended, I realized how little of it that I actually picked up on. Was I at fault for not feeling entirely intellectually fulfilled by the experience? Not at all; after pondering the true meaning of I ♥Huckabees, I realized that there really isn’t one. It is disguised as a complex movie, but, in truth, is rather shallow.

     I ♥Huckabees is exactly what its marketing campaigns dub it as: an existential comedy. What exactly is an existential comedy, you ask? Basically, using the basic tenants of existentialism, this movie molds several stories around idealistically humorous situations, and intentionally overemphasizes the themes of interconnection and estrangement in the world, for laughs.

     The main focus of the film is Huckabees Corp., a company which runs a chain of department stores. Brad, who I quoted at the beginning of the movie, is a spokesman for the company and Dawn (also quoted), is their headlining television “commercial-girl.” Shortly before we’re introduced to the two, Huckabees struck a smug deal with protagonist Albert (Jason Schwartzman), an environmentalist who opposed one of their stores being built on precious marshland. At the same time, Albert finds himself baffled by the many coincidences in his life, and hires a duo of “Existential Detectives” (Dustin Hoffman and Lily Tomlin), to diagnose the meaning of them. They stalk Albert for twenty-four hours a day (“Even in the bathroom.”), seven days a week. Also featured in the movie are Caterine (Isabelle Huppert), a French existential detective, and one of her followers, Tommy Corn (Mark Wahlberg). Throughout I ♥Huckabees, there is a lot of interesting conversation, but, unfortunately, it doesn’t really add up to anything.

     I don’t want to lead you to believe that I ♥Huckabees is not an entertaining movie, because it is. All of the actors play their roles with the utmost sense of insanity, making the film a kind of desperately hysterical trip, much of the time. But, it suffers from being devoid of a point. The scenes in the movie would work by themselves, perhaps better than they do in context; they could all be a part of an entirely offbeat (and sophisticated) episode of Saturday Night Live. I ♥Huckabees thrives on one-liners and great supporting acting, particularly from the outrageous Watts. Still, I found the fact that it isn’t much more than a clever compilation of bits of witty writing to be somewhat discouraging.

     As puzzling as the title I ♥Huckabees may seem, I know exactly what director/co-writer David O. Russell is referencing, through it. He is toying with existentialism’s concept of emotion, fitfully, as existentialists believe that all feeling is absurd. Because of this, the superficial "♥" was used in the title, instead of using the simple word “love”. This makes it doubly ironic that the characters in I ♥Huckabees are so plagued with confliction and hysterics.

     Had I ♥Huckabees found a more equal balance between one-liners and emotional resonance, it may have worked as an intelligent satire, in addition to the occasionally side-splitting comedy that it is. With a small amount of tinkering, it could’ve proven to be a real winner, certainly, with its first rate cast and hypnotizing style. I ♥Huckabees is very spicy, in the exact same way that, say, Thai food, is. If viewed in moderation, it could be viewed as an interesting experiment, used for the purpose of playing with artistic taste-buds. However, when stretched into a full-length meal, it becomes a needlessly unsatisfying film. As iffy on it as I may be, though, I must say, for the record: the last dialogue-exchange is simply priceless.

-Danny, Bucket Reviews (11.10.2004)

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