A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

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 | , , ,

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