I’m not 110% sure but I think there may be a new movement poking its head out from over the Hollywood hills. Only a few years ago it was unimaginable that a Hollywood studio would make an entertainment-oriented movie with recognizable stars but also with a premise so weird and convoluted that it is hard to even explain. Then all the sudden there was this movie starring John Cusack and Cameron Diaz and it was about how there’s a door hidden inside an office building that you can go through and you will be able to control John Malkovich and make him quit acting to become a puppeteer. Then also there was the movie by the same director and writer where Nicolas Cage played twin brothers who try to write a movie based on a non-fiction book about collecting rare orchids but they can’t do it and instead write the movie that you are actually watching about twin brothers who try to write a movie based on a non-fiction book about collecting rare orchids but they can’t do it so instead they write the movie that you are actually watching.
Usually Hollywood is all about what they call “high concept” where the movie can be explained in one sentence or less. For example, Martin Lawrence has to go under cover so he dresses up as a fat old lady. Or, the Wayans brothers have to go undercover so they dress up as creepy blonde zombies. Or, Robin Williams is a bad father and husband so he dresses up as an old lady and lights his fake tits on fire.
But now all the sudden we got this different category of film that cannot be summed up so easy. And I’m not talking about some experimental arthouse type deal, I’m talking about movies that are intended to entertain the audience, etc. I don’t know what to call this movement other than Kaufmania in honor of its founder, Charles Kaufman. Or Kaufman Fever. Or Kaufmandomonium.
Well now we got I LOVE HUCKABEES which is not much like a Kaufman movie except that it’s completely absurd and crazy and equal parts cerebral and silly and all the heady ideas presented by its characters are mostly depicted as stupid. This movie is about philosophy, coincidence, depression, movements being co-opted by corporations, suburban sprawl, the limited appeal of poetry, chain department stores, advertising, beauty standards, self help, dependence on foreign oil, childhood trauma, and the lost boys of Sudan. Mostly the first one, though.
What this is about is Jason Schwartzman (the hobbity, hairy little dude from RUSHMORE, but now looking like a rock star) who runs a coalition against suburban sprawl, but is depressed because he keeps running into a tall African autograph collector, so he hires two “existentialist detectives” (Lily Tomlin and Dustin Hoffman) to “solve the case,” so they teach him that the whole world is interconnected and spy on him and try to figure out what his problem is, and also get hired by Jude Law, an executive at a Target type store called Huckabees, who is trying to take over the coalition, and also a french lady who wrote a book about nihilism is following Schwartzman around trying to tell him that actually the world is not interconnected, everything is meaningless, which really upsets Dustin and Lily even though by their philosophy they should be interconnected with her and therefore not be upset.
I mean I guess it’s not that complicated, but it’s kind of complicated, in my opinion. Nobody goes undercover as anything.
I mean this is a real screwball type of deal, these people are always running around following each other. You got alot of scenes where somebody is riding their bike and then somebody else is riding a bike following them and then somebody else is driving a car following that person. Or scenes that take place in meetings and the other characters follow them there even though they are not a part of the meeting and somebody will ask “Who are you?” but nobody really cares that much. Also people get hit in the face or knocked down alot. People get tackled. There is alot of overreacting, because people are so threatened by other people’s philosophies. Schwartzman gets tackled by a security guard for trying to plant a tree.
This type of comedy could be real stupid but fortunately it’s a real good cast that knows how to pull off these shenanigans. Schwartzman is real good, Tomlin and Hoffman are obviously good, Jude Law pulls a reverse Kevin Costner (going in and out of an American accent), but when he’s on he’s real on as a smirky whitebread dickface. The best in the movie though is Mark Wahlberg as a firefighter who has been depressed and confused since “that terrible September thing,” and now he militantly opposes anyone who uses petroleum. It makes you wish this guy did more comedies. He furls his brow and does the whole movie with complete conviction. He shows up at a meeting with Schwartzman and they ask who the hell he is, is he even a member of the coalition? And Wahlberg says self righteously, “No, I’m not a member of the coalition, but I am a local firefighter.”
The best scene in the movie has Schwartzman and Wahlberg having a spaghetti dinner with a large SUV-driving republicanish family they’ve never met before, and arguing with them about the environment, the economy and sprawl until they end up throwing rolls and getting kicked out of the house. This odd group of people all throw their philosophies at each other: driving an SUV is like murdering children, how can you complain about sprawl when in Sudan they would love to have business and jobs, etc. etc. Their ideas all sound good on their own but then when you sit down with somebody face to face you realize that people are different and situations are complicated and nothing really fits into these easy boxes. Or you should realize it, but they don’t. This family doesn’t give a shit about the enviroment but they are nice enough to adopt an orphan from Sudan, so which defines them? Is it sad that they teach him to collect celebrity autographs and play video games, or does it even matter? Is it better to retain his culture or stay at home where drugged up little kids in clown makeup are running around massacring people?
In my opinion this scene is what the movie is all about. Alot of the ideas and philosophies they talk about seem pretty wise on their own but seem to slip up when put into practice. Maybe we’re just too dumb to be trusted with this kind of high minded crap. Maybe you should need a license.
I haven’t read any reviews of this movie but I got a pretty good guess what some of them are saying. Alot of people are gonna hate this movie, which is fine because man was born free and we each must follow our own path. But I know somebody is gonna claim this movie is pretentious gibberish patting itself on the back. And let me just point out, if that’s what it was, I would not be giving any leeway to this movie. I don’t go in easy for that type of business. Read my review of WAKING LIFE if you don’t believe me.
I don’t think the philosophies discussed in the movie are supposed to be deep, they’re supposed to be ridiculous, at least in the hands of these characters. Even though they never explicitly say it, I think this movie is sort of about Americans immediately after September 11th, when it seemed like impending death was floating above us waiting to fall on us if we happened to look the wrong way. And this forced us to attempt deep reflection. Unfortunately, we are not deep enough for deep reflection and we didn’t come up with much. This is a movie about people desperately searching for answers but they don’t even know what the questions are. And when they cheat and look at the answers, it seems like there might’ve been a typo, that doesn’t seem like it could possibly be the right answer.
Ah shit, I don’t know man. I don’t know how to explain this movie, but it made sense while I was watching it.
October 30th, 2009 at 6:15 pm
I just re-read eberts review of this movie, and then re-read your review of this movie, and it just reinforced how much better you are at this than mainstream reviewers. They really should put you on more posters than just the black dynamite ad. I Heart Huckabees: “I don’t know how to explain this movie, but it made sense when I was watching it.” –Vern. Ebert did not think it made sense when he was watching it. He didn’t think the movie was good at all. Personally, I love it. I totally agree with you about mark wahlberg. He needs more comedies. He steals the movie.