erasing clouds

I Heart Huckabees

reviewed by dave heaton

Bernard and Vivian (Dustin Hoffman and Lily Tomlin) are a classic Hollywood type, a detective couple in the style of Nick and Nora Charles from the Thin Man movies. They snoop around in yards, dodging sprinkler systems to peek through windows. Turn a corner and they're there snooping. The actors play their investigations for big laughs, yet their characters are also people who are seriously into what they do, who are on a mission and will stop at nothing to uncover truth. The key difference between I Heart Huckabees and a classic detective story, however, is that the truth Bernard and Vivian are seeking is a universal truth. They're existential detectives taking on the big 'why are we here' questions one person at a time. In this case that person is not just Albert Markovski (Jason Schwartzman), a community activist who finds himself thinking coincidences after running into the same person too many times in a row, and his fellow client and eventual friend Tommy (Mark Wahlberg), who is so worried about the oil industry that he's its made his family life and career dysfunctional, but also anyone else who Bernard and Vivian encounter in the course of their investigations, including Brad and Dawn (Jude Law and Naomi Watts), who work for the mega-department store Huckabees

David O. Russell and Jeff Baena's script for Huckabees is a series of philosophical conversations disguised as a screwball comedy. Or is it a screwball comedy disguised as philosophy? The style of the film is loose and bright, which makes comedy come off as the film's chief purpose. Director Russell aims at keeping the film surprising and succeeds, as Albert's most random dreams come to visual fruition and the characters' philosophical wanderings lead them down unexpected paths. This is no Mindwalk, no dry, forced 'conversation' about our existence. Yet Huckabees throws more ideas about existence at you than you can imagine could be stuffed into a movie starring big-name stars. I'm not sure if the film will lead your average viewers to contemplate their place in the world, but the content is there for it to.

In I Heart Huckabees, various characters represent various schools of thought on the world, yet they all work as characters, not just empty vessels for words. And the madcap circus of ideas perfectly matches the equally hectic, fun mood of the film. I Heart Huckabees ultimately portrays questioning reality both as a serious matter and as an absolute joke. What's life but a joke, the film asks, while at the same time it takes the matters and concerns of life quite seriously, depicting the ways that our behavior is tied to everyone else's, the ways that our actions and decisions affect those around us and those far away.

Issue 28, November 2004

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