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Overall Rating

Awesome: 31.71%
Worth A Look44.72%
Average: 0.81%
Pretty Bad: 17.07%
Total Crap: 5.69%

11 reviews, 57 user ratings

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I Heart Huckabees
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by Stephen Groenewegen

"Buddhism 101"
4 stars

I Heart Huckabees comes at you with speed and never lets up. David O Russell’s first movie since Three Kings is deliriously intense. It asks the big questions: Who are we? Why are we here? How can we be happy? Then goes searching for answers in madcap comic style.

The central figure is Albert Markovski (Jason Schwartzmann). He’s an earnest poet and a charter member of the Open Spaces Coalition. The Coalition is an activist environmental group that strives to save natural habitats from suburban sprawl. Huckabees is a megalithic chain of department stores. Up-and-coming manager Brad Stand (Jude Law) sees an opportunity for valuable publicity and approaches the Coalition for a sponsorship deal.

Negotiations between Markovski and Stand are breaking down, and it doesn’t help that Stand represents everything Markovski opposes ideologically. Or that Markovski has a crush on Stand’s girlfriend, Huckabees’ advertising model Dawn Campbell (Naomi Watts). Markovski is also distracted by repeated coincidental sightings of a tall Sudanese man (Ger Duany). So he calls in the “existential detectives”. And that’s when things get really weird...

These detectives, Bernard and Vivian Jaffe, are inspired creations. They resolve existential conundrums by poking their noses into clients’ lives and encouraging them to question how they perceive the truth. Bernard uses a “reality blanket” to demonstrate to Markovski the inter-connectedness of all beings. He also teaches Markovski how to shut out mental distractions to aid metaphysical reflection. As played by Dustin Hoffman and Lily Tomlin, the Jaffes are intrepid philosopher-intellectuals with opposing, but complementary, strategies. Vivian emphasises logic and the brain; Bernard focuses on emotions.

Through the Jaffes, Markovski also meets his “other”, a bicycle-riding firefighter named Tommy Corn (Mark Wahlberg). Since 9/11, Corn has been fixated on America’s petroleum dependency. His constant questioning is enough to drive his wife from their home, and he’s not above taking on a holier-than-thou Christian family on the subject either. Corn is on the verge of quitting the Jaffes’ methods to take up those of rival French philosopher Caterine Vauban (Isabelle Huppert). Vauban is an ex-student of the Jaffes with a nihilistic worldview. For her, inter-connectedness renders the universe meaningless and makes the pursuit of selfish individualism paramount.

It’s refreshing to see a colourful Hollywood comedy that engages the intellect. Unfortunately, Russell never slows down or gives us enough time to absorb and ponder these issues fully for ourselves. It’s as if he has to throw something new at us every five minutes in case we’re bored; it’s exhausting keeping up, and some people are going to be alienated by the rapid-fire pace. At least Russell and co-writer Jeff Baena introduce their characters gradually, rather than all at once.

Performances throughout are suitably lively and entertaining. Law and Watts make for a perfect “golden” couple, and are equally good after their lives dramatically unravel. Hoffman and Tomlin share similarly strong chemistry and are terrifically funny. But, astonishingly, it’s Wahlberg who steals the movie. Corn is an ordinary guy tackling his extraordinary predicament with good humour and guts. If only Wahlberg had brought such humanity and vulnerability to his starring role in Tim Burton’s dire Planet of the Apes. Schwartzmann is entertainingly annoying and frenetic as Wahlberg’s partner and Law’s nemesis.

If you’re struggling with exactly what I Heart Huckabees is about, it helps to know that Russell is a Buddhist. It makes sense to view Markovski as Russell’s questioning alter ego. That we have no fixed identity or self, and that all matter is inter-connected, is a basic tenet of Buddhism. After explaining all this to Markovski, Bernard teaches him to meditate - and meditation forms the foundation of Buddhist practice.

The Jaffes and Vauban arguably represent contrasting schools of Buddhist thought on the nature of reality. In essence, the historical Buddha taught his followers to find the “middle way”, the same conclusion that Markovski and Corn ultimately reach. For preparation, Russell asked Hoffman to listen to lectures by Robert Thurman, Professor of Indo-Tibetan Studies at Columbia University and a pioneering teacher-practitioner of Western Buddhism in America (incidentally, Thurman is also Uma’s dad).

I Heart Huckabees will be seriously weird for a lot of people, but what’s most unusual is its optimism. The movie values all of its main characters, and there are no villains - for instance, Brad Stand represents more than the corporation he works for. Despite connectivity, everyone is a free agent with the capacity to change. The movie’s primary concern is not laughing at the characters struggling with their delusion, but exploring alternative approaches to life and solutions to their quandaries.

With a jovial fairground score from Jon Brion and the crisp, bright cinematography of Peter Deming, I Heart Huckabees is the sunniest take on comparative religion and existential angst you’re ever likely to see.

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originally posted: 12/14/04 13:20:00
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 Toronto Film Festival. For more in the 2004 Toronto Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 Mill Valley Film Festival. For more in the 2004 Mill Valley Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 Leeds Film Festival. For more in the 2004 Leeds Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

8/11/13 BB I love this movie. It's one of my all time favorites. Just funny. 5 stars
6/27/11 DR A hugely misguided philosophy that fails to satisfy itself within its running time. 1 stars
5/30/10 Roy Unsatisfing and basically random, fails as drama since people don't act like this. 2 stars
3/20/10 OHjAwdl JscaOGTU 1 stars
7/31/08 Ramone Gets better with each viewing - great cast, esp. Wahlberg. 4 stars
3/08/08 pin Wes Anderson meets Charlie Kaufman, sort of. 4 stars
7/11/07 Hello Stranger although dumbed down on thie matter, it is very original. made me think alot! 5 stars
7/10/06 Marty watch it as a parody and it's a lot of absurd fun 5 stars
7/04/06 Ashley Hinz Absolute Trash, I could not finish it. Took it out after less than 10 minutes. 1 stars
3/11/06 Tanya very good very funny 5 stars
2/21/06 Agent Sands Hilarious. Hilarious. Hilarious. Hilarious. Hilarious. 5 stars
2/01/06 chris. people need to read philosophy before hailing this as groundbreaking...but i like it 4 stars
12/14/05 Ewok Best of 2004. Law should have won an Oscar. Best score ever. 5 stars
12/13/05 Citizen Kane C-R-A-P! this movie should be erased!!! 1 stars
12/09/05 millersxing the damn movie crawls inside my head and lays eggs. 5 stars
10/27/05 Lizz Brilliant timing, unprentious sophistication, fun! 5 stars
9/05/05 Mike Simon got it. This film = read everything as fast as possible. Understand? Of course not! 1 stars
8/19/05 ES I'll second Simon's decree 2 stars
7/25/05 Bad Critic Hoffman and Schwartzman are great, but the plot is sort-of hard to follow. 4 stars
6/10/05 Simon This intellectual-bullshit movie is too in love with itself to have any cinematic merit. 2 stars
6/08/05 Agent Sands A very creative and interesting film. Isabelle Huppert gave me a boner, which isn't usual. 5 stars
5/25/05 Jake Funny, Bizarre, and brilliant. 5 stars
5/16/05 Indrid Cold Funny, thought-provoking but uneven in tone and pacing. 4 stars
5/14/05 BoyInTheDesignerBubble One day will be a cult hit like Harold & Maude. 4 stars
5/07/05 Who Am I? Pretentious? For dumbed-down ignorant fools maybe, but a great film for the rest of us 4 stars
5/01/05 Mike Hawk Sublime film balancing metaphysics and comedy 5 stars
4/25/05 OverTheRainbow It's movie that makes you think; by the third time, maybe you will get it 4 stars
3/26/05 hannaho Hilariously transcendental! 4 stars
3/15/05 steandric with naomi watts in a brilliant comic role, nothing can go wrong with this film. 5 stars
3/05/05 chris. warning: you might have to actually use your BRAIN when you watch this movie. not for all! 5 stars
3/05/05 Matthew Studley Worthless piece of garbage. Don't mistake lack of talent for genius. 1 stars
2/26/05 strangelows pretentious, self-indulgent and rather boring crap 2 stars
12/27/04 Steve I was very bored by this movie, despite quality cinemetography. 2 stars
12/20/04 David Alexander All dialogue not funny very sick good actors bad film 1 stars
12/18/04 AL JOHNSON A clever,refreshingly different film.My faith in the film industy is restored. 5 stars
12/06/04 Jimmy Kustes I second the Jon Brion comment 5 stars
11/10/04 maximus Really funny but odd 4 stars
11/09/04 scooter The Soundtrack by Jon Brion is awesome! 5 stars
11/07/04 Elena If you didn't appreciate this you are intellectually devoid. A masterpiece! 5 stars
10/28/04 Amy Brilliant, but not for dumbed-down audiences! 5 stars
10/28/04 Lily superb: when brad&albert circle after al sees brad cry, centraly illustrates we are All One 5 stars
10/27/04 Mike H. This film is one of the most enjoyable,entertaining and thought provoking I have seen. 5 stars
10/26/04 ajay funny at parts, but it was a little too abstract for me. 2 stars
10/25/04 Jay Finally a movie worth the $9.00 admission price! 5 stars
10/25/04 Titus Not quite as satisfying as it promised, but a thoroughly worthy film. 4 stars
10/24/04 DM Fucking weird but surprisingly funny 4 stars
10/23/04 Kristen Hannum Brilliant fillm - funny, moving, thought-provoking. A feast for the confused. 5 stars
10/23/04 jcjs loved it 5 stars
10/15/04 Donanymous If you didn't like this movie, you're just too dumb to get it. It was brilliant!! 5 stars
10/13/04 Sherry original, funny, terrific cast, but a lot of work. 4 stars
10/13/04 makafka Liked the opening credits music, but the movie was just plain flat. 2 stars
10/12/04 asina one of those movies made only to get good reviews. 2 stars
10/11/04 A. Forbes totally unique. genius, if you ever read jps. 5 stars
10/08/04 Paul G. An new new cult film destined for deconstruction thru caffinated anaylsis with enthusiasm 5 stars
10/05/04 Amyjo Marsh Unfunny, pompous, pretentious, full of itself, and way, way too long 2 stars
9/12/04 Gregory Really funny and smart 5 stars
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  01-Oct-2004 (R)
  DVD: 22-Feb-2005



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