Tuesday, October 12, 2004

To "Huckabee" or Not To "Huckabee"?

Damn my titles are getting weaker (2nd place: Wherefore I Heart Thou?); I feel like the crazy grandfather elbowing you for a laugh.

Have you ever had that odd, seemingly unique NYC experience of running into an acquaintance or seeing the same stranger on the street at two different times in the same day? Have you ever taken a break from your busy city-brain to ponder the coincidental or possibly cosmic ramifications of that event on your life? If not, then I ask you to stop reading this review, do not go see I Heart Huckabees and click on the following for entertainment: www.hilaryduff.com. For the rest of you (and me), we all have something in common with Albert Markovski (Jason Schwartzman) in David O. Russel's (Three Kings, Flirting With Disaster) sugarhigh-paced, ironic, what-does-it-all-mean funfest I Heart Huckabees.

Albert, a loner environmentalist social misfit, seeks the help of an Existential Detective (!) husband and wife team, Vivian and Bernard (Lily Tomlin, Dustin Hoffman), to help him explain his coincidence of running into the same Sudanese man three times over a short period. Vivian and Bernard feel these coincidences have a lot to do with the main stress in Albert's life; the proposed linking of his environmentalist non-profit company, Open Spaces, with the franchised Huckabees department store, faced by souless corporate mongering, always-on-my-A-game Brad Stand (Jude Law). Tommy (Mark Wahlberg), another Vivian and Albert "case" is soon assigned as Albert's "other" (think of it like an AA "buddy") and the two become friends, cohorts and co-miserables. Dawn Campbell (Naomi Watts) is Brad's girlfriend and the pixie-modeled commercial face of Huckabees. Oh! And noted French actress Isabelle Huppert plays Catherine Vauban, the yin to Vivian and Bernard's yang, a more decidedly bleak Existential Detective, who tries to bring Albert over to her "darker" side.

Caught up? Breathing still? Take a sec. Good. Let's go on.

What I love about the film is that it squeezes and throws a lot at you politically, religiously and philosophically for its 106 minutes, often in a pastiche of Altman-esque overlapping dialogue, without ever leaving you overloaded or feeling patronized. It is a film of opposites and transformations. As it unspools, many uniquely-American conflicts play out: "Surburban Sprawl" vs. environmentalism; Catchphrase-teenaged & celebrity obsessed-logo driven short attention span-ism (whew!) vs. poetry, Kafka and philosophy; motor-mouthed corporate personality vs. quiet, sensitive soul. These conflicts and opposites are personified in Albert and Brad, extremely different people...or are they? Many of the main characters exposed to these Detectives go through a life transformation of sorts, most interestingly is Dawn Campbell's (Watt's character) transformation from an overexposed, brainless, one-dimensional model to what is, in the film, referred to as an "Amish Bag-Lady," the exact literal and figurative opposite of her original and Huckabee's total image.

While the film's ironic tone may not lend an automatic gooey emotional center, there is much, especially in Schwartzman's Albert, that can be identified with on a personal level by a tuned-in audience. After all, at the end of the day, wouldn't we all want the ability to seek out a "Detective" who can help us with the greater questions of the purpose and meaning of our own lives? Are we not, in the big picture both consumers at strip malls and advocates of the environment? Or victims of short-attention span filled television and advertising and lovers poetry and art? Are we not participants in both the sad human drama and moments of silly, spontaneous "pure being?" Aren't we sometimes talktative, funny, aggressive and "on our games" and other times lonely, sad and pained?

I Heart Huckabees is the kind of film that, I predict, will grow in acclaim as the years pass and as today's twenty-somethings (whom I think this film would have a greater appeal to) grow older and into a greater position in our country's intellecutual cultural elite. Without a doubt, it is already the kind of film that will greatly reward you upon successive viewings, the way only a truly excellent film can. Therefore, I highly recommend you experience that unique coincidence of running into the movie at your local 'plex now and at your DVD player down the road.

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