OK, fine: after writing about I ♥ Huckabees
(and its score) constantly in the weeks leading up to its release, my initial dismissal
is a tad on the vague side. After Josh mocked my "small-minded reading of the film"
(and called me a "fuckwit with a Con-Air
fetish"), I need to clear things up.
Let's get the whole Jon Brion/score thing addressed. Yes, I love the man's music. Yes, I am a fan-boy in the worst way. So, yes, when I hear that Jon is doing the score to a movie, I get my hopes up. A Jon Brion score is a fairly elusive event and have accompanied only great films
David O. Russell is a similar case. While I'm not a fan of Mr. Russell's debut, Spanking the Monkey
, I love his screwball-romp Flirting With Disaster
(whatevs dot org to you, Morgan
) and am in awe of his transgressive political treatise/action-film hybrid Three Kings
. Russell has a stellar track record but he takes his sweet time in between movies.
is why I ♥ Huckabees
is such a massive let-down. It's not a bad
film-- I like too many things about it to consider it a total failure. But after working on the script for five years, he's come up with a film that's amusing in places and, for stretches, is shrill and tedious and in love with its own empty cleverness. Josh takes a dig at Wes Anderson in his Huckabees
essay ("Jason Schwartzman shows what a truly charming and endearing actor he can be when he's freed from Wes Anderson's cleverness"), while it's a hollow and transparent bit of criticism intended to spark a debate (Mr. Schwartzman has been "free of Wes" for six years-- I didn't find him charming or endearing in Slackers
or "Cracking Up."), I think it touches on something. Wes and his films are often accused of the very charges that I'm lobbing at Huckabees
. There's no doubt that he often toes that line of being too precocious and clever. But what saves Wes every time is his ability to create characters of real depth and situations that cut to the bone. For every hermetically-sealed-Magnificent Ambersons
-inspired-montage that Wes chucks at us, he gives us Chas telling Royal "that it's been a really tough year" or Margot telling Richie "we're just gonna to have to be secretly in love with each other and leave it at that."
I'm not asking Russell to bog his "existential comedy" down with profound life moments, but a couple recognizable humans (or human moments) would be nice. I know Russell is capable of doing it as Flirting
is filled with really honest exchanges between various characters (when they're not Indian wrestling, knocking over Post Offices, and eating LSD-spiked quail).
I think Mark Wahlberg comes closest to creating some depth, but it's not enough to carry the movie. Lily Tomlin is
great. Unfortunately, her role is largely: walk into frame and start yelling non-sequiters. Funny? You bet. Engaging? Not so much. That's the problem, there are hysterical moments where I laughed really hard ("What happens in a field at twilight?" "NOTHING!" "EVERYTHING!" "NOTHING! "EVERYTHING!"), but there are also long passages where Russell fills the screen with dozens of shouting characters and they're not connecting on a comedic or philosophical or human level.
POSTSCRIPT: Josh responds to my response
. His basic thesis is: I'm missing the larger point as this is a purely existential exercise in filmmaking, therefore wishing for things like "human moments" is silly. I'm not interested in a passive-aggressive game of who's read more Sartre, especially when it's apparent that the the film is just as interested in exploring Zen Buddhism, nihilism, and Freud and this is more about Josh playing devil's advocate (a la the Wes Anderson/Schwartzman). I'd also point out that at the movie's heart is a rejection of rigid philosophical standards and the encouragement of dogma dabbling. I stand by my assertion that I'd heart Huckabees
a whole lot more if there was any soul in all that empty rhetoric.