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.
- David O. Russell
- Jeff Baena, David O. Russell
- Dustin Hoffman, Isabelle Huppert, Jude Law, Jason Schwartzman, Lily Tomlin, Mark Wahlberg, Naomi Watts
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