Film — I Heart Huckabees (R)

I Heart Huckabees (R)

by Amy Diaz

A poet environmentalist, a corporate lackey and an idealistic fireman try to discover the meaning of life with the help of a couple of existential detectives in the screwball comedy I Heart Huckabees.

Or maybe what I mean is speedball comedy since everybody talks very fast, mostly in incoherencies that sound like they might appear very deep and insightful to someone who is extremely high.

Albert (Jason Schwartzman) is the director of the environmental group the Open Spaces Coalition. His goal? To save the world, starting with a plot of marshland earmarked for development. His means? Poetry. Well, he also uses the usual suspects—protest, fundraising, media events to draw attention to the issue—but key to his strategy is poetry.

This has become a point of contention between him and Brad (Jude Law), the suit-and-tie wearing flack for Huckabees, the Walmart-like “everything store” that is looking to boost its image with the alliance to an environmental cause. Whereas the earnest Albert can only offer poetry and that college-activist level of scary dedication to the cause, the slick and pretty Brad offers t-shirts and the promise of a benefit with Shania Twain, about whom he has an oft-told “funny” story involving her celebrity food pickiness.

Perhaps because of his floundering position with the coalition or perhaps because of “his coincidence” (he runs into a tall African man on three seemingly unrelated occasions), he seeks the help of Vivian (Lily Tomlin) and Bernard Jaffe (Dustin Hoffman), existential detectives. Their philosophy goes something like “everything is the same even if it’s different,” the blanket theory (so called because Bernard demonstrates it using a blanket that all matter in the universe). The service they provide is to help their client find answers to the Big Questions, which might not necessarily be the questions their clients originally asked, but the couple works on a sliding scale depending on ability to pay, so it’s hard to be too picky about their results.

Albert begins his work with the Jaffes, more or less allowing them to follow him around, go through his trash and engage in other surveillance tactics. But their investigation doesn’t exactly move fast enough and it begins to interfere with his work situation—especially when Vivian begins to interview Brad about Albert.

Brad, whose interest in the existential detectives may only be how they can further neutralize Albert, decides to hire on the Jaffes for his own who-am-I, why-am-I-here dilemmas and eventually they get to know Dawn (Naomi Watts), his ditzy spokesmodel girlfriend. She takes the blanket theory to heart and replaces her wardrobe of spokesmodel bikinis and hot pants with overalls and a bonnet.

And then there’s Tommy (Mark Wahlberg), the firefighter who has serious issues with the world’s reliance on petroleum. The Jaffes designate him as Albert’s “other,” even though Tommy has recently crossed over to the side of a French nihilist, Caterine (Isabelle Huppert), who is an old enemy of the Jaffes.

So where, in the above description, did I start to lose you? Reading back over it, I started to have my doubts somewhere around the whole “Blanket Theory” thing. But maybe your questions began when you saw the words “environmental group” and “poetry.” The feeling of “uhm, what was that?” is pervasive and persistent throughout I Heart Huckabees. Even when you sort of understood what you just saw, you get the unnerving sense that you didn’t really see everything or that perhaps your understanding is the not right one.

I Heart Huckabees is purposeful and pointed about showing off its brain in every scene—like a philosophy major who tries to pick up on girls with his insights on Nietzsche as he relates to kung-fu movies. And, don’t get me wrong, philosophical discussions can be very funny, especially when steered by a college student who’s read too much and lived too little or a filmmaker who’s received more praise than is perhaps healthy for his quirkier work.

I Heart Huckabees is undoubtedly weird. It’s not a dark comedy, a talky movie where quick-witted dialogue saves a shaky premise or a particularly well-acted or photographed movie (the camerawork is rather straightforward and the actors are having too much fun to be really good). It’s just weird. And different. And in a sea of sameness, sometimes being different is almost a interesting as being good.

How’s that for as Philosophy 101 answer?

- Amy Diaz 

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