I Heart Huckabees

written by David O. Russell

directed by David O. Russell and Jeff Baena

starring Jason Schwartzman, Dustin Hoffman, Mark Wahlberg, Lily Tomlin and Naomi Watts


review by Stephen Notley

I Heart Huckabees defies easy summary. It's fair enough to call it a comedy, though it's not exactly studded with "jokes" or "gags" as we know them. It's got detectives, but to call it a "mystery" would be both grossly off the mark and dead on. Imagine a shiny fusion of Being John Malkovitch and Magnolia with a dash of Douglas Adams' novel Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency and you're getting close.

Let's start with the story. We've got Jason Schwartzman of Rushmore now taller, older, cooler and greasier as an activist-poet trying to prevent himself from getting ousted from his own marsh-protection group by Jude Law, a VP at Wal-Martish Huckabees. Seemingly unrelatedly Schwartzman has noticed that he's bumped into the same tall black man three times, so he goes to existential detectives Lily Tomlin and Dustin Hoffman to figure out what's up.

Hoffman whips out a sheet to illustrate his point. "Here's you," he says, poking up one bit, "Here's me", pokes another bit, "this is the Eiffel Tower, this is disease, here's an orgasm. It's all the same thing." And with that I Heart Huckabees gives itself license to fly off the rails, stitch strangenesses together, wage philosophical warfare, connectionist existentialists scrapping with sexy nihilists. It's not so much a plot as, well, a sheet with different bits getting poked up in different places.

One poke-up is Mark Wahlberg as a guy who's just seen the light about petroleum, it's all about petroleum, petroleum is killing everything, petroleum, petroleum. Yet he and Schwartzman find anti-corporatist affinity and sort of team up against Jude Law who's busy self-destructing over his overuse of his Shania Twain tunafish salad story and his crumbling thing with Huckabees spokeshottie Naomi Watts, all while the detectives float around trying to make all this nonsense fit together.

I Heart Huckabees comes to us courtesy of David O. Russell, he of 1999's excellent Three Kings, and IHH has the same breezy style, the same effortless flow as when you pop in Three Kings to watch a couple of minutes and then look up an hour later going "Whoa, what time is it?" Russell throws us visual popcorn throughout, pieces of Dustin Hoffman's face detaching and drifting into the air as he talks about perceptional frames, balloon-whacks in the face to bring on momentary obliteration of the self, but the bigger fun is in how blatantly philosophical the dialogue and relationships are, characters brazenly asserting or abandoning their belief systems in immediate day-to-day conversation. I mean they really go at it, theses slamming antitheses all over the place, and it only gets hotter when longtime French beauty Isabelle Huppert appears as the advocate of non-connected nothingness between all things.

The cast is great. Schwartzman has little of the Rushmore weasiliness you might expect, much more the truth-seeker of Buddhism, providing a calm centre to the existential carousel whirling around him. Lily Tomlin is perfect, starchily poking around following people, tabbing tiny microphones to walls. Hoffman is hilarious, daftly brilliant, spouting bullshit Philosophy 101 crap that actually holds together. Wahlberg is punchy and terrific as a fireman slamming his way into a fractured political awareness, Jude Law (who's in every movie this year) is pretty and Ken-dolllike as the icon of the dissolving corporatist worldview, while Naomi Watts is beautiful and winning as the pretty face who wants more.

I Heart Huckabees is absurd, confounding, at times idiotic. It's also brilliant and funny. It's worth seeing. See it.