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Volume 70, Issue 43, Thursday, October 21, 2004

Life & Arts

No idea what you're talking about

'Huckabees' maintains hilarity despite lack of clear plot presentation

By Nathan Nix
The Daily Cougar

With his new film, I (Heart) Huckabees, writer-director David O. Russell takes a bold step forward in his career, risking a nearly $20 million budget on a frantic, madcap comedy about existential dilemmas, and landing for the most part firmly on the ground.

The film trails Albert Markovski (Jason Schwartzman of Rushmore), the 20-something founder of the Open Spaces Coalition, an environmental group dedicated to nature preservation. 

When we meet Albert, he launches into an obscene tirade that reveals his thoughts, then reads an on-screen audience an excruciating poem dedicated to a rock he just saved. Albert is not happy with his life. In addition to being vaguely unhappy, he is becoming suspicious of a series of coincidences that are happening to him which involve a tall African, a "Lost Boy" of Sudan.

For help, he visits Bernard and Vivian Jaffe (Dustin Hoffman and Lily Tomlin), existential detectives that take his case pro bono to clue him in to the connectedness of everything in the universe, following him around gathering information about his life.

"Have you ever transcended space and time?" Vivian asks Albert.

"Space, not time," responds Albert. Then he clarifies, "No, actually, I have no idea what you're talking about."

This is pretty much the way half of the film's audience will feel at the end of the movie: it was hilarious, but I have no idea what it was about. This is to be expected, according to co-writer Jeff Baena. He contends that the zany comedy was necessary to contrast the weighty subject matter.

"If you go with these (existential) ideas in all seriousness, you alienate a lot of people," Baena said over the phone. 

"Simultaneously, if you don't take them serious enough, you might seem pretentious or that you don't have a firm grasp on what you're talking about. Finding a balance was always our major concern."

The film works hard at both the intellectual ideas it explores and the quirky comedy, which falls in the vein of directors such as Wes Anderson, P.T. Anderson and Spike Jonze. The performances stand as top-rate physical comedy such as Jude Law's Albert, the deceptive, sneaky corporate ladder-climber, and Naomi Watts as his girlfriend, the bubbly face of Huckabees, the Wal-Mart-esque store where Albert works.

Mark Wahlberg is the highlight of the film as a disillusioned firefighter angry and distraught over America's dependence on petroleum, exemplified by the fact that he rides a bike everywhere, including to fires.

Russell should be applauded for bravely swerving outside the traditional lines of subject matter, even if he doesn't quite convey his ideas clearly. The film won't fully resonate with everyone, but Baena explained that what the audience gets out of it is up to them.

"For the most part, this film is a comedy, and even if you don't want to go deep into it, you can have a really good time. And if you do want to go deep into it, the layers are there."

I (Heart) Huckabees

Twentieth Century Fox

Rated: R for language and a sex scene

Starring: Dustin Hoffman , Jason Schwartzman and Lily Tomlin

Verdict: Brave and funny, but its ideas are somewhat unclear.
 

 Send comments to dcshobiz@mail.uh.edu

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