I Heart Huckabees

If you're pissed off by that precious little heart in the title meant to be pronounced I Heart Huckabees, then this ad-spinning fourth film from the prodding, risk-insensitive David O. Russell (Spanking the Monkey, Flirting With Disaster, Three Kings) may drive you up the wall. Trying to balance mirth and metaphysics, Russell walks a tightrope and tips recariously into incoherence. But how do you not heart a movie that breaks ranks with tight-assed formula and gets dissed by The New Yorker as an "authentic disaster" What's it all about? Don't ask.

It sounds silly to say that Jason Schwartzman, in his richest role since Rushmore, plays Albert, an environmentalist et tormented with questions about the meaning of existence, especially his own. It sounds sillier to add that Albert hires the Jaffes, Bernard (Dustin Hoffman) and Vivian (Lily Tomlin), a married couple billed as existential detectives. Woody Allen ed to joke about cheating on his philosophy exam by peeking into the soul of the boy next to him. The Jaffes peek into bert's soul to get to the bottom of his angst. Russell adopts the same method. With a philosopher's eye and an ear for surdist humor, he looks into the void of our pop-corporate culture to see if there is any soul left. The film flies by on e wings of Jon Brion's fleet score, but the gravity of the situation is never in doubt. Which brings us to Huckabees, the "everything store" that tries to destroy Albert's Open Spaces program by co-opting for the store ad campaign. Albert's pretty-boy nemesis is Huckabees exec Brad (Jude Law), who lives with Dawn (Naomi Watts), the Huckabees spokesmodel. Sexy, fab and deeply fake, Brad and Dawn represent everything for which most of us sell our souls to the company store. Then Brad hires the Jaffes to look into his void, and Dawn — heeding their Zen message of terconnectedness —  shunning makeup and wearing an Amish bonnet.

Under Russell's shrewdly screwball direction, the actors go places they've never been before. Law and Watts take flight into e wild blue of farce. And the teamwork of Hoffman, sporting a Beatle cut, and Tomlin, wearing power suits that can't hide r antic spirit, is a pleasure. Isabelle Huppert is a cerebral hottie as Caterine, the dark counterpart to the Jaffes — her ilosophy is engraved on a business card: cruelty. manipulation. meaninglessness.

Best of all is Mark Wahlberg as Tommy, an angry post-9/11 firefighter so against Big Oil that he rides to fire scenes on his ke. Tommy switches from the Jaffes to Caterine to learn harsher truths. Back from the career death of Planet of the es, Rock and The Trouble With Charlie, Wahlberg gives an indelibly funny and touching performance at constitutes the film's heart.P>ussell, who co-wrote the script with Jeff Baena, tosses so many big ideas in the air that it's not surprising a few crash d burn. Live with it. Russell is a true original. It's not in his DNA to play it safe. He's a rebel Pied Piper, and ckabees is one more reason to follow him anywhere.

From The Archives Issue 330: November 13, 1980