‘Huckabees’ is one director’s existential trip

By on November 10, 2004

Director and co-writer David O. Russell has quite possibly made the best existential comedy to date. This is perhaps due to the fact that existential comedies are so rare, or because some might argue such a type of film does not exist. If this concept seems frustrating or too thought-provoking, then “I heart Huckabees” is probably not the best Friday night feature for you.

In a feeble attempt to grasp the true plot and nature of this film, one must look deep into the souls of its characters and each of their individual searches within themselves to find meaning in their lives.

Jason Schwartzman, in his best role since “Rushmore,” plays Albert Markovski, an environmentalist/poet with mild Tourette’s syndrome. Director of the non-profit group Open Spaces, which is devoted to preserving natural habitats, Albert is frustrated with his life and is obsessed with a series of recent coincidental encounters with a tall Sudanese doorman. The coincidences lead him to seek help. The plot gets even hairier from here.

Albert seeks the aide of Jaffe & Jaffe, a pair of existential detectives, to take on his case. Vivian, played through the suppressed antics of Lily Tomlin, takes a very statistical and observant view of Albert’s life. She can be seen throughout the film shadowing Albert, observing his bathroom habits, his work situation, and his interpersonal relationships. Vivian’s partner is her husband Bernard, played with an eerie sense of humor by Dustin Hoffman, sporting a Beatles hairdo. Bernard is responsible for instilling the Jaffe’s philosophy on their clients-all people, places and events are connected and that everything in life matters.

Opposite Albert and his coalition is Huckabees, a Wal-Mart type of “anything store,” and slick, manipulative exec Brad Stand, played infallibly by Jude Law bearing a fake plastic smile of deception. Brad seeks the aide of the Jaffes as well, if nothing more than to further perpetrate the downfall of Albert.

Another client of the Jaffes is Tommy Corn, a manic post-9/11 firefighter with blatant malice regarding the distribution and usage of petroleum. Tommy is played by Mark Wahlberg, who often steals scenes with his straightforward portrayal of a character who is hysterical without realizing it. Tommy is paired as Albert’s “other,” a type of buddy-system partner experiencing the same case symptoms.

Tommy has managed to finagle a book written by Caterine Vauban (Isabelle Huppert), the French former pupil of the Jaffes who believes in the same theory of connectedness, but with the underlying lesson that life is a series of disappointments, unexpected cruelties and meaninglessness. She later emerges despite the Jaffe’s wishes.

Russell’s head trip of a film continues as Tommy and Albert disaffiliate themselves from the Jaffes and fall under the tutelage of Caterine. Meanwhile, the psychoanalytic effects of the Jaffes begin to take their toll on the lives of Brad and his flighty and equally superficial girlfriend Dawn (Naomi Watts), the spokesmodel and voice of Huckabees; she is reduced to Zen exercises and dressing in an Amish bonnet.

Albert struggles throughout the film to conquer his unhealthy fixation with Brad. He also tries to figure out who he is as a person and what purpose he serves in life. Albert and Tommy learn many harsh realities from Caterine, but the culminating lesson of the film shines through: everything comes full circle and all facts are relative, because all of us are connected.

Jon Brion has composed an original score for the film which accents every scene perfectly, keeping the audience attuned to what is going on even when they become lost in the complicated philosophy and dialogue of the film. The key is not to think too hard about what is going on and to laugh when Shania Twain’s “Man! I Feel Like a Woman” plays in the background, another clever nuance in this unique film.

The script is edgy, unexpected and very intelligent. Russell has put together a film that will really make audiences think more about themselves and the lives of others. The lines of separation between one another seem to blur a bit more after seeing this film. Possibly more annoying than the small heart-shaped icon in the film’s title is the unnerving question that is repeated throughout, as well as at the end of the film’s credits, “How am I not myself?”

Audiences might be overwhelmed trying to discern a specific plot, the shades of humor and, possibly most importantly, whether or not they have actually watched a movie or just merely participated in Russell’s “Psyche 101″ experiment. Understanding the film will take more than one viewing, that is if your brain fails to implode upon watching it the first time.


About Mike McKenna