Tuesday, September 23, 2014
I Heart Huckabees
Directed by David O. Russell and written by Russell and Jeff Baena, I Heart Huckabees is the story of an environmental activist who finds himself dealing with coincidences and such as he hires two existential detectives to help him as others also seek the help of the detectives. The film is an exploration into the world of existentialism as it’s told in a humorous manner as it also features a corporate executive who is the antagonist to the activist. Starring Jason Schwartzman, Jude Law, Mark Wahlberg, Naomi Watts, Isabelle Huppert, Lily Tomlin, and Dustin Hoffman. I Heart Huckabees is a truly hilarious and captivating film from David O. Russell.
The film explores the struggles of an environmental activist who is trying to save some marshes from being destroyed in favor of a new department store as he battles a corporate executive who lied to him. Yet, the activist Albert Markovski (Jason Schwartzman) finds himself encountering a tall Sudanese bellboy which prompts him to get the help of two existential detectives in Bernard & Vivian Jaffe (Dustin Hoffman & Lily Tomlin, respectively) where things get complicated as he finds himself in a bigger battle with Huckabees executive Brad Stand (Jude Law) who also hires the Jaffes. With a disgruntled client of the Jaffes in fireman Tommy Corn (Mark Wahlberg) leaning towards the nihilistic views of the Jaffes’ former protégé Caterine Vauban (Isabelle Huppert) as Albert would join Tommy. Things get complicated when the Jaffes’ presence starts to ruin Brad’s life as his girlfriend/Huckabees’ spokeswoman Dawn Campbell (Naomi Watts) starts to rebel against her own image. All of which plays into a group of people questioning themselves as well as their ambitions and roles in life in a very humorous fashion.
The film’s screenplay by David O. Russell and Jeff Baena has an offbeat structure where the first act is about Albert’s frustrations to save the marshes and deal with Brad who constantly bullshits everyone including the people he works for about a story involving country-pop singer Shania Twain and a tuna sandwich. While the Jaffes claim that both Albert and Brad are the same due to their ambitions and the need to make a difference. It’s something Albert refuses to believe as his encounter with Tommy would have him see a much darker view. Tommy is a fireman who despises petroleum as he sees Albert as a man who believes in something where a series of events would have Albert lose the trust of the people trying to save the marshes who go to Brad who is bullshitting them. The second act is about Albert and Tommy turning to Vauban for help as well as revelations for Albert about his own life where Tommy would often combat the Jaffes about their views on how everything is connected while Tommy refutes that.
Then comes this third act where it is about Brad and his own ambitions where his own life would unravel. Even as his relationship with Dawn comes into question as Dawn is often seen wearing skimpy clothes to promote Huckabees as she begins to ask questions about herself and her own relationship. Especially as she would threaten the future of Huckabees and Brad getting into some trouble which would then lead to a major epiphany for all of those involved. Especially the Jaffes and Vauban whose opposing views on the ways of the world would suddenly come together.
Russell’s direction is simple in the way he would shoot some scenes but there’s also something that is very offbeat in the way he plays into many of the film’s humorous moments. Notably the way it opens with Albert cursing at himself for all of the problems he is having where his encounters with this Sudanese bellboy are comical. It plays to the tone of the film where a lot of the humor is absurd as the scene where Albert and Tommy are in a room with the other clients of the Jaffes to showcase a world that is chaotic. The scenes with Vauban doing her own teaches are also absurd as it tries to play into this comical idea of nihilism. There’s also some very offbeat fantasy scenes that play into Albert’s own struggles and his hatred for Brad.
The opposing views of the Jaffes and Vauban would add to the offbeat tone of the direction where Russell would showcase their views through minimal visual effects. The Jaffes present their ideas in dots and such to say that everything is connected in a variation of transcendentalism while Vauban is more grounded in reality where there aren’t any visual effects but one that is still darkly comic. It would all culminate in a scene where it plays into these two diverge forces finally coming together in a moment of enlightenment. Overall, Russell crafts a very witty yet engaging comedy about a young man dealing with the ways of the world and his place in the world.
Cinematographer Peter Deming does excellent work with the film‘s colorful cinematography to capture the naturalistic of the locations in California as well as some of its interiors where a lot of the film is shot on daytime. Editor Robert K. Lambert does brilliant work with the editing with its unique approach to montages and jump-cuts as it plays to the film‘s offbeat style. Production designer K.K. Barrett, with set decorator Gene Serdena and art director Seth Reed, does amazing work with the look of the Huckabees corporate building as well as the home office of the Jaffes to display their eccentric approach of transcendental philosophy.
Costume designer Mark Bridges does nice work with the costumes from the skimpy clothes that Dawn wears in her job to the different array of clothes that Vivian Jaffe and Caterine Vauban would wear. Visual effects supervisor Robert Barrett does fantastic work with the visual effects that play into the ideas of the Jaffes about connection and such as it‘s very playful. Sound editor Kelly Oxford does terrific work with the sound work to play into some of the sounds in the fantasy scenes as well as some of the moments in the location. The film’s music by Jon Brion is an absolute delight with its playful approach to the Chamberlin instrument as well as some folk-based pieces that he brings in to the film.
The casting by Mary Vernieu is incredible as it features some notable appearances from Shania Twain as herself, Richard Jenkins and Jean Smart as a couple who let the Sudanese bellboy live with them, Jonah Hill in his film debut as that couple’s son, Talia Shire as Albert’s mother, Bob Gunton as Albert’s stepfather, Tippi Hedren as a coalition leader who tries to save the marshes where she aligns herself with Brad, Isla Fisher as Dawn’s replacement later in the film, Ger Duany as the tall Sudanese bellboy in Stephen, and Kevin Dunn as the Huckabees executive manager Marty. Naomi Watts is excellent as Dawn Campbell as the Huckabees’ spokeswoman who is often in their commercials and is Brad’s girlfriend as her encounter with existentialism showcases Watts at her funniest as she questions her own image and such.
Isabelle Huppert is amazing as Caterine Vauban as this absurd nihilist who tries to show Albert and Tommy a world where there is nothingness as she proves to be quite extreme and convincing in her views. Dustin Hoffman is brilliant as Bernard Jaffe as this oddball existential detective who is trying to get people on board with his own ideas while Lily Tomlin is fantastic as Bernard’s wife Vivian who also expresses the same views while being more analytical about the people she’s working with. Mark Wahlberg is phenomenal as Tommy Corn as this fireman who rides a bike as he becomes lost in his own despair as he tries to find meaning as it’s Wahlberg in one of his funniest and most vulnerable performances.
Jude Law is superb as Brad Stand as this corporate executive who likes to tell a story about Shania Twain to win over people and such as he’s a man that is quite vain in his ambitions only to realize how empty they can be. Finally, there’s Jason Schwartzman in a marvelous performance as Albert Markovski as this frustrated environmental activist who tries to make a difference as he deals with the different ideas of existentialism and his own issues with Brad as it’s Schwartzman in one of his funniest roles.
I Heart Huckabees is a smart and compelling film from David O. Russell. Armed with a great ensemble cast and very witty ideas about existentialism, the film is certainly a comedy that doesn’t play to any conventions. Especially as it showcases the idea of existentialism in its most absurd. In the end, I Heart Huckabees is a remarkable film from David O. Russell.
David O. Russell Films: Spanking the Monkey - Flirting with Disaster - Three Kings - The Fighter - Silver Linings Playbook - American Hustle - Accidental Love - Joy (2015 film) - (The Auteurs #70: David O. Russell)
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