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I Heart Huckabees

Sometimes a film latches on so tightly that it becomes impossible to look away. David O. Russell’s latest effort, I Heart Huckabees is indeed a film of that ilk.

Both polarizing and embracing at once, Huckabees is utterly absorbing. The plot is seemingly basic, yet the manner in which story is derived through relationships between characters is entirely complex.

Confused? You will be, for the most part, but hold on. Russell’s film asks the questions that often coincide with meditative constants that have always plagued mankind: “Is existence a cruel joke?” “How am I not myself?” and “What happens in a meadow at dusk?”

And so on, and so on. Ok, so the dusk one isn’t age old, but you get the drift. Russell uses questions whose answers eluded the greatest thinkers of our species and molds them into a bright, insightful, yet engaging film for wide audiences.

This is not the first time a filmmaker has tackled these philosophical musings on screen. Art house cinema is often fused to metaphysical ponderings, but never before has it been so hilarious and accessible, without undermining the content. This stems from Russell’s assertion that extremes, in this case “human drama” and “comedy,” are not actually separate entities but instead two sides to the same coin. One cannot exist without the other, and they are tied together against their own will.

So what about the film? Why is it called I Heart Huckabees instead of “I Love Huckabees” as many would assume?

What I will divulge is that the film centers around a troubled environmentalist named Albert Markovski (Jason Schwartzman), whose sole purpose in life is to save nature through activism, and bad poetry. Albert’s organization, the Open Space Coalition, is working to preserve an endangered marsh at risk of becoming the next installment of the Huckabees chain of retail stores in the vein of Wal-Mart or Target.

His approach is to work with the chain of superstores in an attempt to accomplish both entities goals together. This would insure happiness for all involved, right? Wrong.

Congruently, we learn that Albert has decided to hire two “existential detectives,” Vivian and Bernard Jaffe (Dustin Hoffman and Lily Tomlin) after discovering their business card in the pocket of a jacket loaned to him by a restaurant in order to adhere to the eatery’s dress code. They take his case, pro bono.

Albert has been befuddled by three chance encounters with Mr. Mimieri (Ger Duany), and he feels that these meetings are life’s way of trying to tell him something substantial. He can’t wrap his head around the significance, and wants the Jaffes to sort this all out for him.

This involves giving the Jaffes complete access to his life. Vivian’s modus operandi is that of an analyst, peeping in on him at all times, noting occurrences in astute detail in hopes of finding a clue that will somehow connect the dots.

Bernard, on the other hand, delves deeper into Albert’s belief system, sorting through the layers that make Albert who he believes himself to be. His primary focus is on the infinite, and the belief that all things are connected, whether they appear to be on the surface or not.

This isn’t a philosophy lesson, but Russell aptly touches on the key principles necessary to glue the whole thing together.

As the Jaffes sift through the components that make up Albert’s life, we are introduced to Huckabees public relations superstar Brad Stand (Jude Law) and his Huckabees spokes model girlfriend, Dawn Campbell (Naomi Watts). Brad is working with Albert’s coalition as a PR coup, all the while keeping Huckabees expansion goals on track. His interest in usurping Albert in all ways possible leads him to hire the Jaffes as well, much to Albert’s dismay. The more we learn about Brad’s bravado laden personality, the more we understand Albert’s feelings of vilification.

Mark Wahlberg plays Tommy Corn, a post-9/11 firefighter who believes that petroleum is destroying the world, and is also seeking enlightenment through existential detective work. Tommy questions, “Why is it people only ask themselves deep questions when something really bad happens?” This is not only humorous, but poignant. His emotions, as do many others’, run deeper than he can comprehend, and not understanding troubles him.

Corn’s “dismantling,” the breaking down of who we believe ourselves to be in effort to discover who we truly are, has been disrupted by the writings of French philosopher and ex-Jaffe pupil, Caterine Vauban (Isabelle Huppert).

Well deserved praise for Wahlberg’s performance has already mounted, yet it seems more appropriate to applaud the entire cast equally. Everyone rises to the challenge here, and let’s face it, this subject matter is no easy feat to harness let alone make charming.

There is merit in comedy that not only invokes laughter, but connects us to the underlying humanity within these absurd characters. It is intended that we question ourselves and the film, even as it unfolds. When is the last time you did that at the multiplex?

In Huckabees, joy and suffering are one in the same, and after all, what is laughter if not a mask for pain? What is a joke, other than a cry for attention? The inability to access these emotions is often the consequence of being unable to see things at face value.

This may be why the film is pronounced I Heart Huckabees. We see a heart in the title, but human nature immediately links the image of a heart to the emotion we know as love, and this helps us visualize the differences and similarities between the symbol and the emotion at once. Sometimes we find comfort in the façade of symbols. Other times it helps to step back from all the icons, clear your head, take a look at life for what it truly is, and just laugh.

Either way, I heart this film.


Mario Anima

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