Why does life exist? And what does it all mean? (That is, if it means anything at all). Can such questions produce a fresh and funny film? With his endlessly inventive trip through the Big Picture of human existence, “I Heart Huckabees” writer-director David O. Russell (“Three Kings”) answers with a resounding ‘yes.’
In a recent Hatchet interview, lead actor Jason Schwartzman (who was immortalized as Max Fischer in “Rushmore”) explained the film’s genesis.
“David (O. Russell) had a dream where he was being followed by a woman detective, but he wasn’t being investigated for criminal reasons; he was being investigated for spiritual, existential and metaphysical reasons,” Schwartzman said. “He wrote it in this dream book, then two weeks later said, ‘There’s my hook. There’s my movie.'”
Schwartzman plays Albert Markovski, an idealistic young lad consumed by his envy for his career rival Brad Stand (Jude Law) and desire for Brad’s girlfriend Dawn Campbell (Naomi Watts), the figurehead model of the Huckabees chain of retail stores. In an attempt to make sense of his existence, Albert hires Bernard and Vivian (Dustin Hoffman and Lily Tomlin), a husband-wife team of “existential detectives,” and eventually meets Tommy Corn (Mark Wahlberg), another of Bernard and Vivian’s clients. Eventually, Brad and Dawn enlist the detectives’ services, and Russell weaves a funny and manic tale of four very different people haplessly mired in the same strange, all-encompassing philosophical slop.
“All the ideas (in “Huckabees”) are from Robert Thurman, who is the chair of the Department of Religion at Columbia and who happens to be Uma Thurman’s dad,” Russell said. “He was my teacher at college in Amherst. He’s a professor of Indo-Tibetan studies. They’re spiritual ideas you can find in any tradition, and most of them are in the movie.”
Russell successfully melded these ideas with pacing and a sense of humor that seem almost vaudevillian, producing a comic screenplay so masterfully written that even high school actors would have been able to retain the film’s intelligence and perfectly frenzied atmosphere.
“As Jason said to me, the movie is a train driven by the comedy, music and emotion,” Russell said. “The ideas are stowaways.”
When asked about working with the film’s talented cast, Schwartzman said, “It was really a constant mix of excitement, joy and fear. David kept saying, ‘Don’t worry, these people are just people.’ But Dustin Hoffman is the reason why I wanted to become an actor and suddenly I was working with him.”
The experience of viewing “I Heart Huckabees” is similarly amusing. Russell’s brilliantly unique writing and direction combined with the breathless appeal of the film’s cast makes for a quick but smooth ride on the surface of existence.
“I Heart Huckabees” opens in Washington, D.C. Oct. 8.