I ♥ HUCKABEES (David O. Russell, 2004)
We’ve had FREDDY VS. JASON and ALIEN VS. PREDATOR. Now comes another big showdown, existentialism versus nihilism, otherwise known as David O. Russell’s I ♥ HUCKABEES. Jason Schwartzman hires existential detectives Dustin Hoffman and Lily Tomlin to uncover the meaning behind his coincidental encounters with an African man. Schwartzman’s environmentalist character Albert is also embroiled in a bitter philosophical dispute with his friend Brad, a department store executive played by Jude Law.
I ♥ HUCKABEES might be too smart for its own good, but that also seems to be the point. Russell extols liberal activism while deflating its self-importance with witty wordplay and slapstick. Underneath the dense philosophical banter and face-bashing with rubber balls lays a trenchant awareness of how practicality must accompany idealism to keep the dreams alive. Otherwise people become like Mark Wahlberg’s fatalist fireman spraying his hose on the lawn of a burning house. Righteous anger can be sustained for only so long before becoming all-consuming. Russell and co-screenwriter Jeff Baena pack the dialogue with lots of big concepts and complex philosophy, but that’s balanced with inventive sight gags and terrific physical comedy. For instance, Hoffman and Tomlin’s maneuvering through lawn sprinklers is priceless. I ♥ HUCKABEES is very silly and intellectually satisfying. That combination doesn’t come around often.
(Review first aired on the October 26, 2004 NOW PLAYING)