Much like the never-seen store chain of its title, David O. Russell’s I Heart Huckabees is content to wallow in obscurantist quirk and flash, selling its audience—through actorly mannerism and verbal trickery—a none-too-convincing image of post-9/11 American malaise. (Buy now and receive another idiosyncratic Jon Brion score with your purchase!) Russell’s characters are little more than whining catalog concepts: Ikea furniture performing a Philip Roth staging of Sartre. Albert Markovski (Jason Schwartzman) is the director’s mouthpiece, an artsy-fartsy milquetoast who, obsessed with the meaning behind three coincidental encounters with an African doorman, enlists the aid of “existential” detectives Bernard and Vivian Jaffe (Dustin Hoffman and Lily Tomlin). This is the setup situation through which Russell explores the anxieties of a nation at war with itself and the director’s banal Scope compositions—interrupted, now and again, by flamboyant dream-sequence interludes—correctly suggest a repressive mask, a prototypically American band-aid covering deep emotional wounds. With its heady mingling of politics, music, and human interconnectedness, I Heart Huckabees is clearly indebted to Robert Altman’s Short Cuts, though it fatally lacks that great film’s focus and inclusiveness; it’s theoretical and academic (complete with Borges-like visual footnotes) where it should be playful and emotional (see Altman’s chaotic, yet controlled Los Angeles panorama). Save for a gut-churning moment when chipper Huckabees executive Brad Stand (Jude Law) recognizes his own soullessness, as well as a brilliant dinner sequence (featuring Lifetime staple Jean Smart!) that conflates issues of class, race, and liberal guilt into a slowly-boiling satirical stew, I Heart Huckabees remains scatterbrained and scattershot, finally more Saturday Night Live than Jonathan Swift.
Fox Searchlight may be knocking out the hits, but the money the studio is making is beginning to go to the studio’s head. I understand that I Heart Huckabees was more or less a box office disappointment, but does Fox Home Entertainment seriously think it’s going to make some serious dough by including a 4:3 Pan & Scan transfer of the film on this DVD edition? This isn’t Alien vs. Predator: No one who enjoyed (or is liable to enjoy) I Heart Huckabees will want to see a transfer that betrays its original theatrical aspect ratio. Now, it’s up to you whether you want to blame Fox for the soft image on the transfers or trust David O. Russell when he states on his commentary track that he and his tech people deliberately fidgeted with the film stock to achieve a softer-looking image. Pity no excuse is given for all the edge haloes. In the sound department, the film’s score and effects are pleasantly conveyed while the all-important dialogue comes through distortion-free.
Two commentary tracks, one with David O. Russell and a second with the director and Jason Schwartzman, with Mark Wahlberg and Naomi Watts dropping in from time to time. O. Russell’s solo track is exceedingly dry but should interest anyone who’d like an extensive catalog of the film’s existentialist footnotes and influences (Buñuel fans won’t be surprised to learn that The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie’s eccentric daisy wheel of unfortunate events and monochromatic color palette were a major influence). The group track should please everyone, though, since Russell’s heavier existentialist ruminations are tempered by Schwartzman’s more lighthearted observations.
If you’re an I Heart Huckabees fan you’re probably not even going to bother with this DVD and go straight for the two-disc DVD edition.