Disguised as an existential comedy, David O. Russell’s (Three Kings) new release, I Heart Huckabees, is a deep (perhaps too deep) but absolutely hilarious flick. Starring Jason Schwartzman, Dustin Hoffman and Jude Law, the movie is filled with diverse characters that fit together neatly.
The well-directed movie tells the story of an environmentalist, Albert Markovski (Schwartzman) who is working with a Huckabees’ executive, Brad Stand (Law), to expand the chain of superstores without adulterating new land. Amid this cooperation, a coincidence leads Albert to a pair of witty and amusing existential detectives, Bernard and Vivian (Hoffman and Lily Tomlin).
Russell conveniently avoids concretely answering the questions that Albert poses to his detectives by fumbling around with two opposite theories on human life and reality. He confuses his audience with ease, and intentionally makes the existential ideas ambiguous. In spite of this, every minute of the movie proves to be entertaining and worthwhile.
I Heart Huckabees may have existential roots, but its beauty lies in its social criticism of American consumer capitalism. By comparing the retail chain, Huckabees, directly to Wal-Mart and Target, Russell shows the exhibitionistic nature of advertising that is hidden behind an American flag, clever slogans and beautiful people. Huckabees declares itself as the “everything” store, the quickest and most impersonal way to consume.
When Russell depicts Brad as the archetypal corporate leader, the ugly face of corporations and those on top is undeniably obvious in Huckabees. Such “evil” proves to be Albert’s number one hindrance to finding the answers he desires. Viewers may get frustrated at how Russell portrays corporate leaders as fascists and environmentalists as angels – but objectivity shouldn’t be expected anyway.
As the movie progresses, Albert meets an incredibly believable and funny character, Tommy (Mark Wahlberg), a post-9/11 firefighter who has discovered the evils of consumer capitalism: slave labor, environmental apocalypse and overconsumption. Tommy introduces nihilism to Albert, an existential theory that goes against most things Bernard’s theory stands for. These polar opposite theories and the tension they provide end up uncovering the truth for him. Strong political, religious and social tension as a means to find truth proves to be a crucial aspect of the film.
In one of the most memorable scenes, Albert and Tommy eat dinner with a typical conservative, faith-centered family with indoctrinated children. The duo (who prove to complement one another like peanut butter and jelly) continually points out ways conservative politics spits in the face of Christ’s teaching including using a recurring criticism of the overconsumption of petroleum. A heated, but very amusing, debate ensues; even though Tommy and the father leave the table with the same political views, the value, as illustrated throughout the rest of the movie, lies in the audience getting a different perspective on what it means to have one’s worldview lead his politics.
Behind the confusing rhetoric lie clever dialogue sequences and very believable characters. The characters start out as very traditional, but as the movie develops, the characters transform into their antithesis.
Brad goes from being a power-hungry, materialistic, selfish jerk who leads the perfect life, with the perfect girl (Naomi Watts), who happens to be the voice of his company, into a broken executive with a life, a house and a relationship in flames. Albert evolves from a spastic, confused environmentalist, into a relaxed, sleek and secure one. The positions these two end up in both derive from intense emotional events. The emphasis on human relationships and worldviews, the things that really matter, shines brightly into the eyes of consumption-driven capitalism in Huckabees.
The audience may leave the movie more confused about reality then before. Their perspective on consumer capitalism and its worldwide exploitation will be challenged, to say the least. Despite ignoring the very questions it presents, the movie ends up being smart and funny. Is I Heart Huckabees a cheap shot on conservative economics? Maybe. Is it cute, intellectual, well-acted and comical the whole way through? Absolutely.
As an existential explanation, the flick is weak, but as a humorous social commentary, I Heart Huckabees is golden.
Jonathan Rashid can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.