Manhola Dargis ♥’s Huckabees, and So Do I

I’ll have more to say about it later, I think, but Manhola Dargis’s New York Times review is a pretty good explanation for why I ♥ (♥ed?) I ♥ Huckabees (IMDB). Okay, I promise to stop using the heart symbol now, but I did enjoy the film quite a bit, and as Dargis notes, the film deals with post-9/11 “liberal-left despair” with the deft screwball humor that I needed to get me through Election Weekend (yeah, I know I shouldn’t worry so much, but still).

The film’s protagonist is Albert Markovski (Jason Scwartzman), a poet and environmental activist, who has founded the Open Skies Coalition to protect the environment against suburban sprawl. He is countered by Brad Stand (Jude Law in a wonderfully smary performance), an insincere rising executive for Huckabees, a chain store trying to appear eco-friendly, without really being eco-friendly. Brad is sort of in love with Dawn Campbell (Naomi Watts), Huckabees’ perky, all-American spokesperson. Or at least he’s in love with her image. Because of a series of coincidences, in which he keeps running into the same young African guy (it turns out he’s come to the US to escape genocide in the Sudan), Albert goes to see Jaffe and Jaffe (Dustin Hoffman and Lily Tomlin), a pair of existential detectives, to sort out what ails him. Throw into the mix Tommy Corn (Mark Wahlberg), a firefighter (“but not a hero,” he reminds people) so petroleum-conscious after 9/11 that he bikes to fires rather than riding the truck. Their stories weave together in complicated ways that I’d rather not explain–I don’t want to spoil the fun.

But, as I watched, I found myself thinking about David O. Russell’s previous film, the vastly underappreciated Three Kings, still the best film about the first Gulf War. In fact, Wahlberg’s character seemed to be a virtual extension of the character he played in the previous film. There have been a lot of jokes lately about “liberal outrage fatigue,” and for me, the film seemed to offer some relief from all that, if only through its screwball humor. I’m having a difficult time knowing what to say about Huckabees, other than to say that I enjoyed its comedy and its optimism even in the face of Wal-Marts and SUVs, not to mention the other sorrows (genocide, terrorism) we’ve confronted since September 11. Though Dargis doesn’t find the film quite as comforting as I do, the film’s essential message, that we “keep pushing that rock back uphill,” really worked for me.

In other news, the film has “fake” websites galore, including a blog by the Mark Wahlberg character, Tommy Corn, a website for the Open Skies Coalition, for the Existential Detective Agency, and finally for the eponymous Huckabees Corporation itself.

4 Comments »

  1. Dylan Said,

    October 31, 2004 @ 3:32 am

    I’m interested in hearing your thoughts on Huckabee’s, because I found it to be a witty, funny, but otherwise empty existensial film. Anything I found under the surface was more religious than it was topical or political (e.g. a strong argument coudl be made for Lily Tomlin, Dustin Hoffman, and the French actress who’s name I don’t know being some sort of personification of the trinity. Then again, I’m a converted non-christian and Catholic high school graduate who finds religious symbolism in almost everything)…

    Looking forward to your reveiw.

  2. chuck Said,

    October 31, 2004 @ 10:30 am

    Not sure I have that much to add to what I’ve already said, to be honest. It’s a relatively “empty” film, but I think that’s what I needed last night. I’d agree that the film was “more religious than topical or political,” and upon further reflection this morning my initial positive impression has faded a bit. I still enjoyed the comedy and performances quite a bit, and last night that was enough.

    Given the character Troy’s anti-Christian rants, I’m less inclined to read that group as the trinity, but I might be taking the film too closely at its word there.

  3. Francois Lachance Said,

    October 31, 2004 @ 11:12 am

    Chuck,
    You might be intrigued to note that the entity encoded as & #9829 ; [minus the spaces] appears in a Lynx browser as cH- which in my best text messaging SMS mode I read as short for chucked. Without your mention of the heartshaped symbole I would never of thought to look at the markup and of course conduct a search.

    See http://www.lowculture.com/archives/002308.html for glosses on 9827, 9824, 174, and 8254.

    Will be interesting to see if 9829 enters the vernacular.

  4. chuck Said,

    October 31, 2004 @ 11:58 am

    Franocis, thanks for teh tip. I hadn’t been reading “low culture” lately–too focused on other things. I wondered how other browsers would read that code–now I know.

    I was sensitive about that pun between my name and the verb when I was a kid, but it’s a strange coincidence. Interesting that the same code even appears differently in my sidebar [look at the recent entries list]. I’ve never done SMS, so my shorthand itself is pretty weak.

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