Monday, 28 April 2014


“Those who lack the courage will always find a philosophy to justify it.” Albert Camus

For Movie Monday I am reviewing David O’ Russel’s 2004 film, “I Heart Huckabees”. I had heard nothing about this film when it first came out and looking at the cover, seeing who was in it (Dustin Hoffmann and Lily Tomlin, especially, whose work I like) and reading the hype on the sleeve convinced me to rent it and watch it. The film is described by its tagline as an “Existential Comedy”. It concerns Albert (Jason Schwartzman), a poet and environmental activist who suddenly finds himself wondering about coincidences, existence, the meaning of life, etc, etc. He hires a husband and wife team of “existential detectives” (Hoffmann and Tomlin), who begin to spy on him and analyse his psyche in order to shed life into his existential quandary. A subplot is the power struggle between a corporate wunderkind, Brad (Jude Law) and Albert and also the insecurity that Brad hides behind his highly successful veneer. Another power struggle is between the detectives and Catherine (a rival psychologist played by Isabelle Haupert).

Firstly, if you are offended by gratuitous coarse and vulgar language used for no reason at all except to shock, don’t watch this movie. I am not offended by it, if it used for a good reason. There is no reason for its use in this film and the shock value is exhausted after the first episode where the expletives fly left, right and centre. Repeat offences are boring and completely pointless.

Secondly, I found the premise on which the film is constructed deeply annoying: That is, “let’s make a comedy where we bandy around with existentialist philosophy and we’ll bring enlightenment to the masses without them even realizing it…” Instead of being a funny “take” on philosophy (what the Monty Python crowd do successfully to say, the church), this is a tired, trite, pointless attempt at satire that loses itself in its own convolutions. What comes out is an almost didactic, heavy-handed message on the “evils of capitalism”…

Thirdly, I found the movie without a clear-cut audience in mind. A serious student of philosophy would find it tiresome and humourless, an intelligent and educated lay person would be puzzled (but surely not amused), an ordinary person in the street would be asleep within the first few minutes of the film and find the whole thing pretentious and beyond approachability.

Fourthly, what a waste of a talented cast… You could see them trying to wring out some humour from the script, but even the sight gags fell flat and some I found quite off-putting. Why for example would anyone find two people hitting each other hard with a rubber ball in the face (repeatedly) funny, I don't know. Similarly, in a romantic interlude Albert and Catherine push each other’s face into mud and then passionately kiss the goo off each other… I was supposed to find that comic, romantic, revelatory, insightful…?

I found this film extremely unsatisfying, unfunny, unchallenging, not worthy of even being “hated”. Simply a waste of my time. Looking at the International Movie Data Base’s archive of comments, it seems to have aggregated a score of around 7/10, which is 4 more points than what I gave it. There are some extremely polarised comments some agreeing with me, others glorifying the “originality” and wonderfully “original” aspect of this “new comedy”. I agree with one commentator who likened the film to “The Emperor’s New Clothes…”

If you have seen this film, I would welcome your comaments. Maybe I’m too stupid to “get it”. Maybe I don’t understand philosophy too well?  Maybe I don't have a sense of humour? Hmmmmm…

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