To help Albert along, Bernard and Vivian introduce him to Tommy Corn (Mark Wahlberg), a fireman and philosopher who looks out for him much like a sponsor in Alcoholics Anonymous. Tommy cares about the environment, too, but he’s more militant—or at least, more belligerent—about the cause, refusing to use a drop of petroleum. He rides his bike everywhere and won’t even board his own fire truck, which generally makes him late to emergencies. Tommy serves as a short-fused enforcer for Albert, but his temper fuels an impulsive side, too; unconvinced of Bernard and Vivian’s sunnier worldview, he’s drawn instead to the dark teachings of Caterine Vauban (Isabelle Huppert), a mysterious Frenchwoman who would tear the Jaffes’ blanket to ribbons. (Her business card reads, “Cruelty, manipulation, meaningless.”)

With the philosophical parameters set, I Heart Huckabees follows where these characters—and the movie itself—land on the vast continuum between the Jaffes’ optimism and Caterine’s nihilism. A manic comedy is an odd place to explore these fundamental questions of being, and the sheer density of the ideas under rapid-fire discussion tends to mute or obscure some of the laughs. (It’s no great slight on the film to say that the script likely reads better than it plays, because it can be processed a little more slowly.) But through Albert’s futile quest to save a scrap of land—as little as a rock, even!—from “suburban sprawl,” Russell taps into the common anxiety of many who feel powerless to shape the world around them. Fighting an all-powerful corporation like Huckabees (and slicksters like Brad, who also winds up questioning his hollow lifestyle) is quixotic and humiliating, so it follows that a conscientious person like Albert would be thrown into existential despair. It’s hard to surrender yourself to homogeneity.


Though Schwartzman taps easily into his Rushmore melancholy, and old comedy veterans Hoffman and Tomlin are a fine team—I particularly like Hoffman’s blinkered enthusiasm over touchy-feely concepts like “the blanket thing”—Wahlberg is the film’s MVP, to my mind. His live-wire contentiousness serves as the perfect counterbalance to Schwartzman’s meek passivity, and gives his friend a measure of power that he can never muster on his own. (When Brad tries to hijack an Open Spaces meeting with his trusty Shania Twain standee—to be followed, no doubt, by his endlessly repeated anecdote about procuring a tuna-salad sandwich for her—Tommy simply punches him the face.) As different as they are, though, Tommy and Albert are boyish, open-minded, a little goofy, and supremely eager to find the answers, by whatever ridiculous means necessary. Here’s a terrific scene where the Mutt-and-Jeff duo try out Caterine’s red ball as a mind-clearing exercise:


So it comes down to a choice between “the ball thing” and “the blanket thing”: Either pound your face repeatedly until you know the “freedom of being like a dish of mold,” or cuddle up to the equally numbing idea that the particles in our bodies connect us with everything from orgasms to hamburgers. It’s little wonder that I Heart Huckabees discovers an Option C that strikes a vague balance between these seemingly incompatible philosophies, ending on the optimistic thought that Albert’s misadventures have brought some perspective, if not quite enlightenment. To say the film isn’t for everyone is an understatement—it’s rare for any film to divide critics as sharply as this one—but that’s a testament to Russell’s go-for-broke audacity. It takes courage to lift the rhythms and architecture of fizzy ’30s comedies and clog them up with the tortured mysteries of existence. You can count the number of movies that have attempted that on one finger.

Coming Up:

Next week: Darkman

July 9: Lost Highway

July 16: [Vacation.]

July 23: Pootie Tang