I Heart Huckabees is such an iconoclastic movie that it seems a bit perverse to note just how much it owes to other films and filmmakers. Yet out of a heady stew of disparate influences emerges one of the boldest, most audacious American movies of the last 25 years, a freewheeling cerebral carnival of energy and ideas, if not always coherence or cohesion.
The latest from writer-director David O. Russell combines the intellectual vaudeville of an early Woody Allen short story with the cinematic playfulness that Jean-Luc Godard exhibited before Marxist orthodoxy destroyed his sense of joy and possibility. Also like early Godard, Russell seems heavily influenced by his peers and contemporaries. Huckabees borrows Jason Schwartzman, melancholy quirkiness, and a perfectionist's eye for detail from Wes Anderson, as well as Mark Wahlberg (in his finest role and performance since Boogie Nights) and a woozily psychedelic Jon Brion score from P.T. Anderson. I Heart Huckabees also suggests Charlie Kaufman and Spike Jonze's trippy postmodern absurdism, but, like Quentin Tarantino's best work, it synthesizes its influences into something joltingly original.
A self-described "existential comedy" about interconnectivity, environmentalism, corporations, coincidences, the meaning of life, and Shania Twain, Huckabees casts Dustin Hoffman and Lily Tomlin as existential detectives who help their clients deal with philosophical crises, albeit sometimes in ways that just confuse them further. Schwartzman, in a rare and welcome lead role, co-stars as an environmentalist locked in personal and political struggle with fellow client Jude Law, a yuppie executive whose happy façade conceals an emptiness shared by his girlfriend Naomi Watts. For his part, Wahlberg imbues a modern icon of manliness and courage—the heroic firefighter—with a combustible mixture of rage, idealism, and despair. United in their confusion and alienation, Wahlberg and Schwartzman form an unlikely friendship as they fall under the spell of gloomy philosopher Isabelle Huppert, the apparent ideological foe of Hoffman and Tomlin.
A stoner movie that gets high on theories and concepts, Huckabees throws out so many seemingly contradictory and counterintuitive ideas that it takes repeat viewings just to process everything in the script. A light comedy about the meaning and nature of existence, the film fuses lowbrow physical comedy and deep thoughts in a far-from-seamless way, but it's thrilling to witness a movie this eager to risk looking ridiculous.
In I Heart Huckabees, ideas don't just meet and clash: They dance furious tangos of love and hate, enter into ill-advised marriages, and then head down to Mexico for quickie divorces. That exhilarating fearlessness makes flying off the rails seem like a glorious leap of faith.