22 November 2004 | majikstl
Being (silly) and nothingness...
Giving credence to the phrase "everything old is new again." I HEART HUCKABEES is a pleasing throwback to the 1960's. Not unlike Mike Myers's pop-edelic Austin Powers sagas, HUCKABEES is as much a taste of nostalgia as it is a pleasurable respite from the blood-soaked Quentin Tarantino legacy of the 1990's (which fittingly enough is little more than a dirtied up version of the tough-guy B-movies of the 1950's).
At any rate, HUCKABEES is a clear descendant of films like MORGAN!, LORD LOVE A DUCK, YOU'RE A BIG BOY NOW, HAROLD AND MAUDE, not to mention THE GRADUATE and a variety of other films that feature disillusioned young men trying to find meaning to life and purpose in existence in a world of absurdity. Not surprisingly, I suppose, once again America is in a troubled war, political protest is almost tiresomely routine and society is defined by extreme political, social and ethical differences. At a time when we are bombarded from an untold number of sources about how we should talk, think and act (left-wing politically correct conformity strangely mirroring the right-wing cold war conformity of the 1950's), HUCKABEES turns to a radically old-fashioned concept: Go figure it out for yourself.
In a press release for HUCKABEES, director David O. Russell writes "Philosophy interests me only insofar as it is practical and makes people feel more alive and open -- not closed." As such HUCKABEES doesn't seem so much aimed at presenting Russell's personal philosophy so much as musing over some of the possibilities. The film revolves around Albert Markovski (played by Jason Schwartzman, as sort of Russell's surrogate), a not-particularly-successful environmentalist. Albert has a rivalry with/ friendship to /hatred of /crush on Brad Strand (Jude Law), a corporate cog who works for Huckabees, a Wal-Mart-like chain wanting to place a new store on a plot of landscape that Albert is doing a rather poor job of protecting. For different reasons, they both turn to "existential detectives" Bernard and Vivian Jaffe, (Dustin Hoffman and Lily Tomlin), who presumably investigate/stalk their clients to figure out what makes them tick. Basically, Bernard and Vivian are a conscience for hire. Hot on Bernard and Vivian's heels is Caterine Vauban (Isabell Huppert), an ex-pupil turned rival, who is bent on spreading the word that life is meaningless and valueless.
In battling for Albert's psyche, if not his soul, the two factions offer conflicting views of the world. Bernard argues that life is a blanket, one interconnecting fabric of existence where all things are related. Caterine offers a world of random chaos where values are arbitrary. Being versus nothingness. Responsibility versus indifference. Hope versus despair. Light versus dark. Good versus evil.
As philosophy, it is probably pretty simplistic, but philosophy isn't the point so much as the absurdity of life which makes it so difficult to keep one's bearings. If Albert (and Russell) never quite cut through the chaos and ultimately only find peace through compromise, that is probably the best anyone can really hope for. But like any movie (or mystery or therapy) the ending is possibly not necessarily as important as the journey getting there. Which is a good thing for HUCKABEES because the film gradually peters out, but it is an unpredictable ride, shared with oddball characters, while it lasts.
And it is something of a sentimental journey. I doubt it is entirely a coincidence that Schartzman bears more than a passing resemblance to a youthful Hoffman (in a Beatles' haircut, no less), whose performance in THE GRADUATE will forever grant him iconic status as a symbol of the 1960's. HUCKABEES echoes many of the themes from that 1968 landmark film: the questioning of prevailing values, battling consumerism, searching for identity and, last but not least, seduction by an older woman.
Though not entirely successful, there is something just so wonderfully refreshing about I HEART HUCKABEES. It is a film that tries to be about ideas, without being self-consciously pretentious, like Woody Allen. It flirts with the sweetness of a Spielberg film, but in the humanistic style of a Robert Altman, but without his souring streak of cynicism. But most of all it stays miles away from the cold-blooded nihilism of Scorsese, Tarantino and the bunch. This is a film without villains, only comrades who, to one degree or another, are searching for peace of mind.