I Heart Huckabees (tbc)

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The ViewBirmingham Review

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Review byMatthew Turner05/11/2004

Four out of Five stars
Running time: 107 mins

An extremely enjoyable, if thoroughly bizarre comedy, I Heart Huckabees combines slapstick humour, a witty, off-the-wall script and a collection of wonderful performances from its superb ensemble cast.

It’s been five years since indie director David O. Russell’s previous film, the still-relevant black comedy Three Kings, but it has definitely been worth the wait. I Heart Huckabees (chosen as the London Film Festival’s closing film) is vaguely reminiscent of Russell’s previous quirky comedy, Flirting With Disaster, although it frequently seems like a Wes Anderson film directed by Hal Hartley. Or vice versa.

Existential Detectives Required

Jason Schwartzman (from Rushmore) plays Albert Markovski, an environmental activist who is head of the Open Spaces coalition. Convinced that a recurring coincidence has some Deeper Meaning, he hires a team of “existential detectives”, Bernard and Vivian Jaffe (Dustin Hoffman and Lily Tomlin), to investigate his life.

However, the Jaffes are more interested in his conflict with Brad Stand (Jude Law), a rising PR executive who works for Huckabees, a popular chain of retail stores.

When Brad subsequently hires the Jaffes himself, they in turn investigate his relationship with his girlfriend, spokesmodel Dawn (Naomi Watts), “the voice of Huckabees”. Meanwhile, Albert pairs up with his ‘sponsor’, rebel firefighter Tommy Corn (Mark Wahlberg) and the two of them seek guidance from the Jaffe’s mysterious nemesis, the French radical Caterine Vauban (Isabelle Huppert).

As if the plot wasn’t impenetrable enough, the characters constantly discuss philosophical questions and ponder The Meaning Of Existence, so that at times it feels as if you’ve crashed a party full of inebriated philosophy students.

Fortunately, the script is extremely witty and you quickly sense that it doesn’t matter if some of it is over your head, particularly when there’s a laugh-out-loud slapstick gag every few minutes. Highlights include: Wahlberg and Schwartzman hitting each other in the face with an inflatable Space Hopper in pursuit of enlightenment; Caterine’s somewhat unorthodox lesson on desire and degradation (possibly the funniest sex scene of the year and certainly the dirtiest); and Brad and Albert scrapping in a lift.

Excellent Ensemble Cast

The ensemble cast are excellent, particularly Hoffman and Tomlin, both of whom are clearly relishing their roles and having a great time. However, it’s Mark Wahlberg who gets most of the big laughs – he shows a surprising talent for deadpan comedy as the eco-conscious fireman who insists on riding his bike to emergencies.

Naomi Watts is also good value, while Isabelle Huppert is terrifically sexy in a role that recalls her equally quirky turn in Hal Hartley’s Amateur.

In addition to several brilliant sight gags, Russell also adds several imaginative directorial touches, such as splitting the scene into drifting squares to show the deconstruction of reality, or depicting Albert’s hallucinations in snippets of demented, yet hilarious collage-based animation. There’s also an excellent soundtrack by Jon Brion that wouldn’t be out of place in a Wes Anderson film.

To sum up, this is an enjoyable comedy with a superb cast on top comic form. If you liked Rushmore or Flirting With Disaster then you’ll ‘heart’ I Heart Huckabees. Highly recommended.

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I Heart Huckabees (tbc)
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Content updated: 15/12/2018 05:10

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