A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 501 – I Heart Huckabees

I Heart Huckabees – July 14th, 2011

As with many movies in our collection, this was bought somewhat blindly, I believe. Andy purchased it some time back and he hadn’t seen it and didn’t watch it after he bought it and that, as they say, was that. It sat in our living room and we never picked it up. I vaguely recalled seeing ads for it when it came out, but whenever I looked at the cover I couldn’t think of what it was about. I mentally filed it in with things like Garden State and The Men Who Stare At Goats and everything Wes Anderson has ever made. Quirky pseudo-comedies that try to touch on more meaningful topics, featuring quirky characters with messed up lives. Largely realistic with maybe a touch of magical realism. And I’d have to say I think I was fairly spot on. I had no idea what the specifics were, but as Andy and I agreed, this is about an inch away from being a Wes Anderson movie. All it’s missing are the yellow titles and a few dioramas.

Since I happen to like Wes Anderson’s style, I was definitely in luck here. I found myself laughing through the vast majority of this movie, particularly when it seemed to be making fun of itself and everything in it. It’s thoroughly ridiculous for the most part, with the main character, Albert, going to a pair of “existential detectives” to help him out. He’s got a coincidence he’d like investigated: Three times he’s encountered the same man he’s never really met and doesn’t know, all in unexpected places. He thinks it must mean something and when he finds a card for the Jaffes’ detective agency he heads off to see them. But of course since we’re talking about an existential investigation, nothing is insignificant and they dig a lot deeper than he expected them to. The coincidence only means something, after all, if it’s put in the context of his whole life. And oh, his whole life is a mess.

That’s really the point, though, because what fun would it be to have an existential investigation through someone’s life if the life in question was fine as it was? So the Jaffes have plenty to work with as they follow him around and plant microphones in his office and in the office of his nemesis, Brad, and bug his phone and follow his coworkers. There are a lot of characters in this movie and to be honest the idea of going over the plot and the characters and describing how everyone is connected is kind of stumping me. Which, I think, is intentional. The whole concept here is that everyone’s connected and everything’s connected and it matters and doesn’t matter at the same time so who cares who the Sudanese guy Albert keeps seeing is and who cares if Brad maneuvered Albert out of his environmental group and what does it matter if Tom and Albert stop seeing the Jaffes and start listening to a former pupil of theirs, Caterine?

If I tried to describe the entire plot I would get bogged down in details. It’s an ensemble cast full of people with problems and their problems run into each other until they’re one big mess of people screaming at each other and hitting each other in the face with a bouncy ball and talking about infinity together. Which makes this movie sound a lot louder and messier than it is, for the most part. The ending is as messy and loud as it sounds, but the rest of the movie is small scenes that take a couple of characters, show their interactions, then show how their interactions affect other interactions. The thing is, none of these characters are particularly great people. They’re all whiny and self-absorbed and obsessed with problems that are huge and important but made petty by the behaviour of the people obsessed with them. Really, only Dawn, Brad’s girlfriend who is also the spokesmodel for Huckabees, a sort of Walmart/Target stand-in, comes off as sympathetic to me. Well, her and the Jaffes. I like both of them.

But the point here is that it’s all ridiculous. That these people need to take a step back and think and put everything in proper perspective. And that they can’t seem to do it without a whole lot of drama is played for laughs. Which works for me. Especially when it comes to Albert and his “other”, Tom, smacking each other in the face with a huge ball in order to try and bring about a feeling of peace. That’s totally the way to go! It’s just all so over the top and while I can see it grating on some people, I found it amusing and enjoyable.

Now, don’t let the whole existentialism thing fool you. There are moments in this movie where it seems something a little more meaningful is going on and characters make breakthroughs that explain why they’re unhappy. But in the long run really it’s all just pop philosophy. It’s not the existentialism or the problems that make this movie entertaining for me. It’s the performances. Jason Schwartzman, Mark Wahlberg, Naomi Watts, Jude Law, Lily Tomlin, Isabelle Huppert and Dustin Hoffman all give wonderful performances, though I think Jude Law and Lily Tomlin were my favorites, with Naomi Watts close behind. The performances make the movie fun and the cast works well together, taking this bizarre concept and running with it. Other than that, I’m at a loss for how to describe this movie. It’s a strange piece of cinema with a great cast. I’m not entirely sure of the script’s intentions but since the movie entertained me I can’t really complain. But I also can’t really say anything else.

July 14, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , | Leave a comment

I Heart Huckabees

July 14, 2011

I Heart Huckabees

Back when this movie first came out on DVD I was still working at Suncoast in the South Shore Plaza. About a week after it came out Mark Wahlberg came in to the store to buy some DVDs. I wish now that I had just grabbed a copy of this movie and asked him to sign it for me but I was too busy being cool and treating him like any other customer. It turns out, now that I’ve finally gotten around to watching this movie that it’s exactly my kind of weird nonsense, and I would really have liked to have been able to tell Mark how much I enjoyed watching him in this.

This is, basically, an existential comedy about the futility of modern life. Or something like that. Jason Schwartzman plays Albert Markovski, an environmental crusader who runs the local chapter of Open Spaces, a group that aims to preserve natural beauty from urban sprawl. He writes simply dreadful poetry and has lately been feeling that his efforts are futile. A smarmy smooth talking businessman from Huckabees, the vast retail chain, has been trying to get him booted out of the group he founded. He feels powerless and lost. And he keeps coincidentally running in to this tall, striking African. In an attempt to find answers (even though he doesn’t really know what the questions are) he turns to an “existential detective” agency he stumbles upon.

It is these detectives, a husband and wife team played by Dustin Hoffman and Lily Tomlin, that are the real heart of this movie. They offer answers, of a sort, to their clients. Not always the answers they were seeking, but answers nonetheless. Vivian (Lily Tomlin) is more of a traditional investigator: observing her clients in their day-to-day lives and searching for hidden clues to unlock their perceptions of reality. Her husband Bernard (Hoffman) on the other hand takes a much more metaphysical and holistic approach, using various techniques to try and help his clients understand the interconnectedness of all things and the contradictory nature of infinity.

These two are fascinated by the problems in Albert’s life and quickly insinuate themselves into it, bringing their investigation to his workplace, offering their services to his smarmy rival Brad, and generally sticking their noses where they don’t belong. Things get stranger when they introduce Albert to another existentially lost individual on a similar course – a fireman named Tommy Corn who has a problem with the whole “petroleum issue” that plagues modern life. Tommy is very badly lost, not just because his girlfriend has left him and taken his daughter but because he has deviated from the treatment provided by Vivian and Bernard. He has been sucked into a darker and more nihilistic philosophy espoused by a very angst ridden French woman named Caterine.

Very soon Albert and Tommy try to take their cases into their own hands, with predictably disastrous results. Albert goes out to meet the African, who seems like a genuinely pleasant person although his foster parents turn out to be fairly antithetical to Albert and Tommy’s more liberal agendas. (It’s a fairly difficult scene to watch I thought.) Then Caterine shows up and things really begin to fall apart, because rather than stressing the interconnectedness of all things she concentrates on the futility and isolation of human passions. (It turns out, of course, that she used to be a pupil of Vivian and Bernard until she turned to nihilism.)

The whole conclusion of the movie is a bit of a mess. There’s this big clash of pop psychology and of course Albert needs to figure out his own connection to Brad and there’s a lot of nonsense when Brad’s model girlfriend becomes “corrupted” by the existential detectives and stops trying to be beautiful. At times it feels like writer/director David O. Russell is just throwing everything at us at once to see what works. It doesn’t really matter though, because the movie has a genuinely kind heart and is just so much fun to watch. Mark Wahlberg as Tommy is a kind of lost child and a plaything for all these forces, and you feel genuine sympathy for him. Jude Law as Brad is one of the slimiest corporate bastards ever filmed, while at the same time actually being a little vulnerable when his own desperation begins to become apparent. It’s really Lily and Dustin’s movie though. She’s simply hilarious, particularly with her physical comedy when Vivian is “inconspicuously” investigating Albert’s life. He’s all profound wisdom and mind tricks. Together they work wonderfully as actors and as characters they effortlessly drive the movie forward and simply make it enjoyable to experience.

I just wish I had seen it earlier so I could have gotten Mark’s autograph, because I know if I had seen this when I had him in my store I would have gushed about it at him. Less fun for him, probably, but more fun for me.

July 14, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , | Leave a comment