I Heart Huckabees [50 New-Old Movies for the 51st Year #36]

Mid-last year, I turned 50 years old!  And to add to all the real life goals and challenges that that brings, I’ve created at least one as it relates to movies and this blog–watch a film I’ve never seen before which came out in each year of my life (thus the “Old-New” terminology), and then write a bit about it.  This is Post #36.  Spoilers ahead.  

I Heart Huckabees

Directed by David O. Russell

Release Date:  October 22, 2004
My age then:  34 years old

What it is about:  Social activist Albert Markovski is confused by a series of strange coincidence,s and so he hires a pair of odd detectives that believe that everything in life is connected to investigate the deeper mysteries of his life and how he fits into the universe. He also gets connected with a rival of the detective who espouses an alternative philosophy that everything is meaningless.

Starring Jason Schwartzman as Albert Markovski, Dustin Hoffman and Lily Tomlin as Bernard and Vivian (the existential detectives), Isabelle Huppert as Caterine (their rival), Mark Wahlberg as Tommy Corn (another client of Bernard and Vivian who befriends Albert), Jude Law as Brad (Albert’s rival in his charity work and an executive at Huckabees–a local supermarket chain) and Naomi Watts as Dawn (Brad’s girlfriend and a model associated with Huckabees). The movie also features Jason Schwartzman’s mother Talia Shire (as Albert’s mother), Isla Fisher (as Dawn’s replacement), and Ger Duany as a tall African man that Albert keeps bumping into. Plus, there’a Tippi Hedren, Jonah Hill (in his film debut), and Jean Smart in small roles. Shania Twain has a brief cameo as herself.

My impressions of this movie before I watched it:  I really didn’t know anything about this movie. I might have even thought that “Huckabees” was the name of a fictional band or something, and I think I got the poster for Little Miss Sunshine mixed up with this movie in my mind.

Reality: I Heart Huckabees is a real oddball of a film which carves out its place in the world by diving more into philosophy, psychology and character than it does into plot. This all works pretty well–there is a fair amount of metaphysical rambling which works a treat because you’ve got some really good actors delivering it. Really, the film is anchored by about seven or eight core performances that all manage to embrace the fearless lunacy of the movie’s script (by director David O. Russell and Jeff Baena) to create characters who are memorable and believable, even in the midst of the movie’s quirkiness.

Jason Schwartzman is the main character of this ensemble. He plays Albert, a guy who is deeply confused and insecure, whose struggles get the movie going. His search to understand an odd coincidence leads him to the door of “existential detectives” (that he learns about through a related coincidence) who are played with hilarious intensity by Dustin Hoffman and Lily Tomlin. Tomlin starts to openly follow and observe Albert in every area of life (even those he wants them to stay away from) while Hoffman teaches him a form of lucid dreaming to help him unlock the secrets of his subconscious.

After a while, Albert grows dissatisfied with the detectives, and falls in with their former student, Caterine (alone with a fellow client named Tommy, a firefighter who is obsessed with the way petroleum products are destroying the planet). Caterine teaches that nothing is connected, that one can only hope to achieve a short-term zen-like state of disconnection as a temporary relief from the inevitable miserly of existence.

The film basically follows all of its central characters as they dance around these various philosophies, and that’s where we find much of the movie’s humor. In a world full of strange coincidences (and Albert does eventually learn that there is meaning in the coincidences that sent him to the detectives in the first place), we watch our characters navigate their lives and see their storylines bump into each other in unexpected ways. All along, everything dances around these philosophical ideas, but wisely, the movie never tries to settle on a statement about which of them is the “most true.” In fact, Albert’s real breakthrough comes when he is able to take elements of both of the views of his teachers–only then can he make sense of his life again.

The movie’s off-beat story is married well with a whimsical visual style that I quite enjoyed watching. Indeed, I enjoyed pretty much everything about this movie, except for fairly intense and frequent vulgar language, and for a really weird sex scene that I did my best to skip over. Take this for what you will, but I don’t enjoy this sort of content in a movie–they are almost always unnecessary–and so having it there only diminishes my enjoyment and the level of my recommendation.

So…when you get down to it, what did I think? Maybe it’s due to the presence of Jason Schwartzman, but I Heart Huckabees is vaguely reminiscent of an MA or R-rated Wes Anderson movie. That is to say, aside from the more explicit content, I quite liked the movie…but I am glad that not every movie is like this.

See here for the Master List.

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