hoberman2.jpgI Heart Huckabees is a complicated, messy, imperfect film about complication, mess, and imperfection. It's totally hillarious, and somewhat offensive. It's hard to watch, and only sometimes pleasureably so. It received mixed reviews, and despite its "all-star" cast, was a commerical failure.

As far as I'm concerned, it's one of the most worthwhile American films of last year.


Albert (Jason Schwartzman) is a long-haired neo-hippie in a borrowed sport coat, and all he wants to do is write bad poetry, save trees, and write bad poetry about saving trees. As Mark Twain used to say - that's all fine, as long as he doesn't disturb the horses.

That is, until the horses start disturbing him.  After a really bad lunch with Jude Law (playing the all-American corporate lackey from hell), and already suffering from a crippling case of deja vu, Albert reaches into his sports coat and finds a business card for an "existential detective" agency. Soon he's begrudgingly allowing a husband and wife team (Lily Tomlin and Dustin Hoffman) to burrow into his life and head, pick through his trash, and ask him questions like, "have you ever transcended space or time?" But they're professionals, and he's at the end of his rope.

Everything is connected, the detectives say. They ask Albert to picture the universe as a blanket. Then they zip him up in a bodybag so he can think about it.

It starts to work. Albert re-evaluates his own misery, and existential investigation seems like his way out. Then he meets Tommy Corn (Mark Wahlberg), a firefighter who came to the detectives after 9/11 turned what he thought was his life's purpose inside-out. Tommy prompts Albert to question whether "the blanket thing" is the only method, and a sexy nihilist (Isabelle Huppert) shows up with another option.

2004 was an excellent year for existentialist cinema - and not just films that forced their protagonists to ask, "What am I doing here," but also films that forced spectators to ponder the same. Why do we see movies? What are our expectations? And what are we supposed to do when those expectations are challenged? What do we do with films that exist in order to make us feel like we've been punched in the face?

This, the notoriously difficult David O. Russell's fourth film, embodies both breeds of life-conscious dilemma - and this is certainly why a lot of people can't stand it. It wants more from us as spectators than we are accustomed, or in some cases willing, to give. I'm ready to accept the idea that I Heart Huckabees may be a hate-it or love-it proposition; what's frustrating is the common conflation of "I hate it" with "I don't get it".  This is a film about the traumatic nature of not "getting it", and the horrible things we do in the name of "getting it" that actually preclude our "getting it". Calm down - it's not trying to condescend to you, it's trying to reflect you.

It's a little too quirky, a little over stylized. I don't have proof that it's not just an excuse to give Lily Tomlin a really great wardrobe, or to give Isabelle Huppert something to do in English. It's a little too obvious in its critique of what's wrong with America, settling largely for easy targets like corporate irresponsibility, and Shania Twain. But I truly believe that Russell's film has a big heart(no pun intended). It wants to open itself up to you. It asks questions about life, death, love, committment, responsibility and belief, and it wants you to take a second and fill in your own answers. I Heart Huckabees' biggest crime may be that it zips us up in a bodybag, and asks us to think. Just relax - go back to the blanket.

Two seperate editions are being released on DVD today: a two-disc version with director and actor commentaries, music videos, commericals, and about a million features more; and a single disc with just the film and commentaries. Both are available from Amazon.

categories Cinematical