I Heart Huckabees

I Heart Huckabees is a confounding movie that seems even less interested in connecting with its audience than it is in stringing together some sort of coherent plot. Despite the frustration it engenders, Director David O. Russell’s weird flick is undeniably interesting, though it may not make a lot of sense. Is there meaning somewhere in there? I don’t think so. Like the characters in it, the movie simply exists.

What exactly is Russell trying to create here? I Heart Huckabees is so random, it’s almost inexplicable. It’s a lot like a surrealist painting, without all the really cool swirly colors. The first half of the film focuses mainly around Jason Schwartzman’s character Albert, a down and out activist who founded something called the “Open Spaces Coalition” through his pro-environment poetry. Schwartzman plays Albert as if he’s in on some wonderful joke, while at the same time trying to seem put upon and downtrodden. In fact a lot of the cast seems to know something incredibly funny, only they aren’t sharing it with any of us.

Albert’s life has been thrown into chaos by a hostile takeover of the Open Spaces Coalition, a takeover masterminded by mega-mart chain store executive Brad Stand (Jude Law). To make sense of it all, Albert hires a pair of Existential Detectives played by Dustin Hoffman and Lily Tomlin. They examine every aspect of his life in an effort to prove to him that everything is connected, because I guess this knowledge will make things better. Examining his life means following him everywhere, watching, and taking notes yes, even when he’s in the bathroom.

Hoffman and Tomlin dig into their characters with a sort of unbridled glee. Dustin in particular seems to be having a lot of fun as he and Tomlin monopolize the majority of the film’s dialogue with inexplicable mumbo-jumbo about our infinite nature. It’s quantum theory turned into philosophy, which is fine since few of us understand quarks or Socrates. It’s a natural fit.

As Albert’s existential education progresses, he’s introduced to a firefighter named Tommy. Tommy is to be Albert’s “other”, which is a lot like the buddy system used by AA. Tommy is another of the Existential Detective’s clients and has an obsession with petroleum, which he claims is the root of all evil. As a result he rides his bike everywhere, even to fires, earning him the ire of his fellow firefighters. Tommy and Albert feed off of one another, eventually falling prey to the dark side of the whole existential thing and joining up with the Existential Detectives arch enemy. Worse still this leads to one of the most disgusting fantasy sequences in film history when Jason Schwartzman is depicted suckling milk from a feminized Jude Law’s breasts.

The second half of the film is primarily about Brad Stand who himself hires the Existential Detectives in an effort to further undercut Albert’s life. The detectives start looking to Brad’s relationship with his live in girlfriend and Huckabee’s spokesmodel Dawn (Naomi Watts). She buys into their infinite mumbo jumbo and is soon wearing dumpy clothes and accusing Brad of being unable to handle her infinite nature, which of course he can’t. Neither can we for that matter. Her infinite nature makes no damn sense.

Many of the individual scenes in I Heart Huckabees are actually funny on their own. The actors are energetic and clearly enjoying themselves, which I suppose helps sell it. But I’m not sure what those individual moments actually add up to in the end. My guess is nothing. Huckabees is a movie you don’t really have to watch all of to get the most out of it. A few trips to the restroom for instance aren’t likely to leave you stranded. Should you nod off for twenty minutes or so during the film, you’ll wake up and probably not realize that any portion of the movie has been missed. I’m convinced it was constructed solely for the amusement of the people making it, its desperate clawing to be quirky merely a symptom of David O. Russell having a good laugh with his cast. The weird thing is that in spite of all that, Huckabees is amusing. I’d be hard pressed to explain why, except to say that it’s a comfortable sort of confusion that Russell has brought to the table. Good luck figuring out exactly what the point is.