I Heart Huckabees
I ♥ Huckabees is "all about what it's all about." At least, that's what the studio's summary of David O. Russell's fourth film boasts. If that means that the movie asks, "What's it all about?"… they're correct. We haven't seen a movie so intent on uncovering the meaning of life since Richard Linklater's Waking Life. But anybody who claims Huckabees delivers a satisfactory definition of life's meaning is sorely mistaken.
Although widely varied in style, Russell's films explore what unites humankind and what draws people out of their narrow-minded boxes. In Flirting with Disaster, Ben Stiller plays a desperate man searching for the family that gave him up for adoption. Over and over, he "finds" his family and begins bonding, only to find out there's been a mistake, and he has to tear himself away. It's all played for laughs, but on a deeper level the film is about how interconnected we are, even with total strangers. Although Russell's war film Three Kings was much more serious, it too was about human unity; U.S. soldiers in the Gulf War came to realize that the struggle was not as clear cut as they'd assumed, and through a terrifying hostage crisis they came to sympathize more deeply with the people whose territory they occupied.
The hero of I ♥ Huckabees is not trying to find a family; he's trying to find a satisfying worldview. And while his relational barrier is not an international divide, he does learn how much he has in common with his enemy, a corporate executive with a mean streak.
Albert Markovski (Rushmore's Jason Schwartzman) is a defender of "open spaces," an environmentalist, and a poet. But for a guy who's passionate about poetry and a clean environment, he sure has a filthy mouth! He vents his outrage in an R-rated stream of profanity, protesting disorder in the world and in his own life, much the way Nicolas Cage did in the opening moments of Adaptation.
Albert has good reason to be upset. He signed a contract with a superstore chain called Huckabees in order to gain the resources necessary to save a local marsh. But while Huckabees promotes Albert's Open Spaces Coalition with the help of pop star Shania Twain, they're cleverly subverting Albert's leadership of the campaign, replacing poetry with empty razzle-dazzle. Raging against the machine, Albert tries to prevent his supporters from being seduced by Huckabees' charming, materialistic, malevolent figurehead, Brad Stand (Jude Law).
But Albert's angst runs deeper than mere disillusionment with corporations. Mysterious coincidences have led him to question the purpose of his life. So he seeks helps from "existential detectives" to help him learn whether or not his efforts really matter. Vivian and Bernard Jaffe (Lily Tomlin wearing a tight suit, Dustin Hoffman sporting a haircut that makes him look like the fifth Beatle) promise Albert that their investigation will be a "painful process" that could "dismantle" his whole experience.
The detectives begin to spy on Albert's every move. The answers they uncover are, in essence, more powerful questions that lead Albert farther into psychobabble than he really wants to go. "Have you ever transcended space and time?" Vivian asks him. Bernard tries to explain the interconnectedness of everything by turning a blanket into a metaphor, and then he zips Albert into a body bag for some quiet time. Soon, Albert's so confused about the meaning of life—or whether there actually is such a thing—that he can hardly ride his environmentally correct bicycle. Worse, the Jaffes argue that Albert and his nemesis, Brad, have quite a bit in common.