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Fox Home Entertainment presents
I Heart Huckabees (2004)

Vivian: Have you ever transcended space and time?
Albert: Yes. No. Uh, time, not space... No, I don't know what you're talking about.

- Lily Tomlin, Jason Schwartzman

Review By: Joel Cunningham  
Published: February 21, 2005

Stars: Jason Schwartzman, Donnie Wahlberg, Naomi Watts, Jude Law
Other Stars: Dustin Hoffman, Lily Tomlin, Isabelle Huppert
Director: David O. Russell

MPAA Rating: R for language and a sex scene
Run Time: 01h:46m:42s
Release Date: February 22, 2005
UPC: 024543169611
Genre: comedy


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
A A-A-B+ C

DVD Review

I Heart Huckabees, the fourth film from director David O. Russell, was one of the great surprises of 2004. Not that I wasn't expecting it to be an entertaining or compelling film; Russell's track record offered proof enough that, good or bad, it would be worth watching. No, I'm surprised that such an insane cinematic experiment managed to secure big-studio backing (through 20th Century Fox's indie arm, Fox Searchlight) and a wide theatrical release. After having seen the film, I can't say the same about its box-office failure—however I feel about it, this was never a film that was going to appeal to a wide audience.

It's billed as an "existential comedy," and Huckabees certainly lives up to that rather esoteric marketing term. Jason Schwartzman plays Albert, a frustrated environmentalist searching for meaning in his life. In order to find some, he hires existential detectives Vivian (Lily Tomlin) and Bernard (Dustin Hoffman), who believe that all of creation is connected, and that if they observe every moment of a person's life, they'll be able to discover those connections, and ergo, meaning. What this really means is, from this point on, the two can be glimpsed in the background of nearly every scene, crouched and taking notes.

Albert is an influential member of a group of tree-huggers trying to save a marshland slated for development. In a moment of weakness, he sells his soul to the corporate world because he believes charismatic, perfectly coiffed Brad Stand (Jude Law), a public relations flack for the retail chain Huckabees, will help he get something accomplished, but Brad is really trying to use the environmentalists to make his company look good. Albert and Brad also come into contact with Tommy (Mark Wahlberg), a firefighter who sought Bernard and Vivian's help following 9/11 and who has devoted his life to stamping out the evils of a petroleum-dependent society. Tommy has gone astray, however, and begun exploring the theories of one of the existential detectives' former colleagues, Caterine (Isabelle Huppert), who believes all of existence is random and meaningless. The opposite interpretations of reality play out in the narrative over the course of two hours, and it's up to the audience to decide if it all comes together or is just a bunch of random philosophical self-flagellation. Which is a pretentious way of saying, humor so intellectually motivated you're not always sure if it's even funny isn't something that's going to appeal to all audiences.

Director David O. Russell has never been one to kowtow to an audience. Look at his credits: feature debut about incestuous love affair? Check (Spanking the Monkey). Off the wall, off-putting sex comedy? Check (Flirting With Disaster). Controversial Gulf War movie? That one, too (Three Kings). I Heart Huckabees is intentionally, and at times, maddeningly inaccessible. By design, it demands repeated viewings, not only for purposes of understanding the plot and the character motivation, but to digest all of the rapid-fire ruminations on the purpose and substance of existence. Not to mention it's the kind of humor that doesn't necessarily seem funny the first time. And yes, that's a lot to ask—most people don't have the patience or the time to stick with a film that requires so much viewer participation, but in the case of Huckabees, it's worth it, provided you aren't completely repelled at first blush.

Russell's direction alone warrants a second look; though the film threatens to spiral out of control at every turn, he keeps the insanity, intersecting storylines, and surreal visuals under control and manages to construct a coherent argument, while keeping his actors on the brink of insanity. Cinematographer Peter Deming (Mulholland Dr.) carefully controls the palette, creating spare frames that occasionally burst with color—a visual mood befitting the unusual screenplay. Jon Brion has made a name for himself as a composer in the last few years, contributing haunting, defining music for P.T. Anderson's Magnolia and Punch-Drunk Love, and, especially, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, and the layered, hypnotic Huckabees score might be his best yet (interestingly, a lot of it was strung together from pieces Brion had composed years earlier, patches of music that he felt just dropped into place against the filmed footage).

Now, it's entirely possible that you'll watch I Heart Huckabees and conclude that a lot of pseudo-intellectual blather doesn't make a film, and that various bundles of neuroses don't constitute characters, and that you've just wasted a bunch of your time. And that's fine, of course—not all movies were made for all audiences, and I suspect this one was made for a very select group. If you don't mind films that are more about surreal, metaphysical contemplation played out over the course of two hours, disguised as a bizarre comedy, then you'll like this. Assuming you can think of another film that fits the bill.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A-

 

Image Transfer

 OneTwo
Aspect Ratio2.35:1 - Widescreen1.33:1 - P&S
Original Aspect Ratioyesno
Anamorphicyesno


Image Transfer Review: Both a 2.35:1 widescreen and a cropped full frame transfer are included on opposite sides of a single-layer disc. I only looked at the former, and it looks wonderful. The crisp image shows off the detail in each frame, with good color contrast and strong, deep blacks. I did spot some aliasing at times that might have been cleaned up if Fox had used a dual-layered disc, but overall, this is a very nice transfer.

Image Transfer Grade: A-

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Spanishyes
Dolby Digital
5.1
Englishyes


Audio Transfer Review: Despite the film's wacky milleau, the audio track is still fairly straightforward, and this front-heavy 5.1 mix gets the job done. Speech is crystal clear, and Jon Brion's hypnotic score is spread nicely across the main channels and into the surrounds. Sound effects are presented with good stereo separation, and the rear cannels contribute to the atmosphere of select scenes.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+

 

Disc Extras

Animated menu with music
Scene Access with 28 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish with remote access
2 Feature/Episode commentaries by director David O. Russell; director David O. Russell and actors Jason Schwartzman, Mark Wahlberg, and Naomi Watts
Packaging: Keep Case
1 Disc
2-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: Fox provided single disc version of Huckabees for review; a loaded two-disc set is also being released on the same day at a slightly higher price point. Judging by the volume of bonuses, it seems like it will be worth the money, but I can't say for sure.

I can say that the two commentaries on this release (also on the deluxe set) are decent. Director David O. Russell goes solo on the first, and talks about making the film from top to bottom, and offering some insights on the subject matter. The second track, where Russell is joined by actors Jason Schwartzman, Mark Wahlberg, and Naomi Watts, though Russell explains at the beginning that the track has been moved around, that Wahlberg and Schwartzman appear only here and there, and that Watts actually makes her contribution over the phone. A weird track for a weird film, I guess, but worth a listen.

And that's it. If you want trailers, deleted scenes, and documentaries, pick up the two-disc set.

Extras Grade: C

 

Final Comments

Existential posits that you get out of life what you put into it; likewise I Heart Huckabees is a film that demands your effort and attention. That doesn't mean you'll like it, of course, but its ideas are worth contemplating, and movies like that are rare, and worth rewarding. Fox offers the discs in plain-jane and loaded special edition flavors, so make your choice and examine your existence, or something.

 


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