28 July 2006 | tedg
Bigger than Itself
I suppose the highest reach any artist can have is to create something so carefully placed and shaped that it grows into unknown, unseen corners of the word and absorbs things beyond the artist's reach. Such things I would call this "real" art must be a dream for many.
Film makes this harder in a way, because many of the conventions now demand that characters, if not situations, be "real" and that story arcs take predictable form.
So usually what screenwriters play with is the causal dynamics of the world. I only know well one other of Russell's films "Flirting," which seemed as though it was skirting too close to the edges of romantic comedy. That's the territory of Wes Anderson and not capable of doing more than amusing.
This is different, this. Sure, it has large character strokes that are comic, or seem so. But what it does is redefine the world in a way that clarifies and makes for that spongelike quality of real art.
The setup now is that most of the world is wrapped as a character, a large department store chain called Huckabees. The situation deals with folks who support and/or resist it in minor ways. The pretty "voice," the advertisements, the poems, a benefit show, these "folds" in the movie (each a small, similar movie) are played with in very clever ways.
Hoffman's character goes further to isolate the main character from the movie by putting him in a bad so he can get to his inner movie. Another character played by Markie Mark (amazingly well) has had his reality scrambled by 9-11. The two, later joined by the Huckabee's "voice," settle into a search for the form of movie for their lives.
Hoffman and Tomlin represent one cinematic philosophy. Isabelle Huppert a sort of icon for new new wave European cinema represents that notion of cinematic wrapping and competes with the "existential detectives," Hoffman and Tomlin for control over our three, four with Laws' character.
They represent that uniquely American notion of having a character in the story, usually a detective literally, that stands between the viewer and the story, in both, unraveling both. They "watch." The story itself isn't strong enough to sustain this fabricated notion, and resorts by the end more and more on simple comedy and strokes from romantic movies. It ends happily, it seems, which is a dangerous flaw.
This does well in its first half in giving us something that qualifies as worthwhile. I does, and I recommend it to you. Its more than mere quirky charm and you really might find your mind, even your soul being competed for.
The last part, all that business about Laws' character, was necessitated so that there would be a story, and actual story so we could justify continuing to watch. But the cost is too high because it negates the tone of the first part. Would Charlie Kaufmann have been clever enough to write his way out of the problem? You can spend the second half of this wondering how, and the first half getting yourself into this delicious dilemma.
Ted's Evaluation -- 3 of 3: Worth watching.