People have been debating philosophy since the days of Plato and Aristotle and while various philosophies on life, the universe, and everything have worked their way into different movies, never have they been presented as overtly and conflicting as in I Heart Huckabees.
Trying to pinpoint what a movie that follows “existential detectives” is about shouldn’t be easy, probably part of the reason the ad campaign for I Heart Huckabees was so vague, but really it’s not as difficult as it sounds. The film specifically follows Albert Markovski (Jason Schwartzman), an ecological crusader who is working with Huckabees, a Target/Wal-Mart type company as they try to create a eco-friendly face for the company. Albert has had a “coincidence” in his life, running into a tall African fellow several times, and wants to try and understand what these coincidences might mean. So he employs Bernard and Vivian Jaffe (Dustin Hoffman and Lily Tomlin), two existential detectives who investigate the very meaning of Albert’s life.
Albert’s nemesis, corporate slickster Brad Stand (Jude Law), quickly ends up as part of the investigation, and actually hires the Thurmans to investigate his life as well, leading them to his wife Dawn Campbell (Naomi Watts), who serves as the spokesmodel for Huckabees. Actually it’s not long before just about everyone in the movie is under investigation by the two detectives, as well as their opposition, Caterine Vauban (Isabelle Huppert), including Tommy Corn (Mark Wahlberg) who can’t seem to figure out how petroleum fits into the equation of the meaning of life.
Confused yet? Well, you should be. That’s the whole point of I Heart Huckabees. See, underneath the main story, the movie really is about the meaning of life, presenting two opposing theories right on the surface of the movie. Bernard and Vivian believe in the great connection of the fabric of the universe - everything is made of the same material, and connected through that. Caterine Vauban prefers a more chaotic view of the universe, that nothing we do really matters because we are all nothingness - very nihilistic. The presentation of those philosophies really appeals to me, much in the same way those same philosophies made up the spine of “Babylon 5”, but in a much more subtle manner. However, it won’t appeal to everyone. People who aren’t interested in discussing philosophy or hearing theories outside of their narrow, defined vision of the world probably won’t get much out of the film aside from watching Jason Schwartzman and Mark Wahlberg hit themselves in the face with a punch balloon, and that’s just not enough of the film to make it enjoyable.
For those who do enjoy the movie, there’s lots of value here beyond the philosophical side. All of the performances are great, and a few are absolutely fantastic. Schwartzman, Hoffman, and Tomlin are pretty much exactly what you expect them to be, but that works perfectly for this type of film. Jude Law continues to show his versatility with his salesman that would honestly try to sell an ice maker to eskimos. Standing above them all though is Mark Wahlberg’s angry Tommy Corn, and Naomi Watts, who yet again proves she’s more than just a pretty face by playing a character who is exactly that. What makes all of these performances golden is the underlying truth to each character that is unearthed as the existential detectives investigate each character. Law’s Stand discovers the insecurity underneath his cool facade. Watts shows the depth beneath her character’s pretty face as she tries to stop being so damn beautiful. It’s a neat exercise in acting, to play a character playing a character, and that’s exactly what most of these figures are.
If your interest in the meaning of life stops within the pages of the Book, then this film most likely isn’t for you. If you’re open minded enough to explore other theories of existence, you’ll not only enjoy the efforts of this film, but you’ll get to witness some excellent performances along the way. Don’t look to this film for any solutions though. While it does wield a philosophical blade, at the end of the day, it’s just entertainment.
Despite all its new age philosophical views, I Heart Huckabees is unfortunately an effort in commercialism when it comes to its DVD release. It’s the latest in the trend of double dipping a film on its release date. One release is practically a bare bones edition, with nothing other than a commentary track or two, the other release includes a second disc with the meat and potatoes of bonus features. Guess which version we’re reviewing?
For some reason Fox Searchlight, in their infinite wisdom, did not see fit to send the two-disc set our way, letting us review just the single disc version. This means the extra features such as the deleted scenes, the appearance on “The Charlie Rose Show”, the mock PSAs for Open Spaces and Infomercials, and more won’t be discussed in this review. I’m certain these extras were created with the same brilliance as the film and are probably quite enjoyable, but I’m not recommending them since I haven’t seen them. If you like the film, that’s the version I’d suggest picking up though, just to get your money’s worth.
This edition includes the film and two commentary tracks - one from writer/director David O. Russell, and another with Russell and cast members Jason Schwartzman, Mark Wahlberg, and Naomi Watts. Essentially this is the reason behind the two commentaries - Russell had so much fun recording the track with the cast members, he realized at the end that they didn’t really discuss as much about the movie as he’d like, so he went back and recorded a second track. The feeling of these tracks reflects that. The group commentary is a lot of fun to listen to, but doesn’t have much depth to it. The single commentary is a lot more focused on the film, but less entertaining. Russell himself is a lot of the inspiration behind Schwartzman’s character, which is a neat trivia bit, but a bit annoying to listen to as he goes into detail on what in the film is based on true events in his life.
While the look and feel of I Heart Huckabees is fantastic on DVD, I’m giving this release the low rating typically reserved for featureless, grainy, muddy sounding discs. I don’t know why Fox decided to double dip their own title. The whole benefit of the DVD format is that we can have extras. Why cheapen that with two different price points and allow consumers to spend less money? Give us extras and we’ll give you our dollars. Until then, this remains a poor way to present what is otherwise a fun, intelligent movie.