Before we begin, let me make a promise to you, the reader. I promise not to use the adjectives “quirky,” “indescribable,” or “surreal” to discuss I Heart Huckabees, the latest film from writer/director David O. Russell. I also won’t try to convince you of my intellectual cred by dropping philosophers’ names in an attempt to demonstrate how knowledgeable I am about such things, like other reviewers will. There’s no point, since you’ll find little in the way of actual philosophy in the film, and – unfortunately for Russell – not much more in the way of laughs, either. Neither of which bodes well for a film billing itself as an “existential comedy.”
The movie isn’t as hard to explain as everyone’s going to tell you, either. Jason Schwartzman plays Albert, founder and leader (for the time being) of the Open Spaces Coalition. He’s also prone to fits of profanity and writing bad poetry. Albert is convinced that a series of coincidences in his life are anything but, so he hires Bernard (Dustin Hoffman) and Vivian (Lily Tomlin), two “existential detectives” to investigate. They take his case, but demand unfettered access to his life in order to better demonstrate that all things are part and parcel of the same universal fabric (in another movie, they might have called it “the Force). This is what passes for “existentialism” in Huckabees
At odds with Albert is Brad (Jude Law), a successful corporate lackey employed by the department store chain Huckabees. The store has entered into a precarious arrangement with Open Spaces, who are assured that Huckabees will not wreak too much environmental damage upon the land where a new store is going up. Brad is also wresting control of the coalition from Albert, thanks to his glib good looks and Albert’s insistence on reciting his horrible poems at meetings. Meanwhile, Brad’s girlfriend Dawn (Naomi Watts), the “face of Huckabees,” is having a crisis of her own, and has taken to “uglifying” herself by smearing grime on her face and wearing overalls. Unfortunately for her, this just makes her look like a dirty Naomi Watts, which is hardly a turn-off.
Albert’s case doesn’t get very far before the investigators partner him up with Tommy (Mark Wahlberg) a petroleum-hating, bike-riding firefighter who is, unfortunately, straying from Bernard and Vivian’s concept of universal oneness in favor of the nihilistic worldview of their competitor, Caterine Vauban (Isabelle Huppert). Caterine’s business card reads “cruelty, manipulation, meaninglessness”…hardly a comforting viewpoint, but it fulfills the purpose of juxtaposing Caterine with the detectives. Is either perspective correct? Or do the answers of Albert’s life questions lie somewhere in the middle?