I Heart Huckabees
Directed by David O. Russell
Written by David O. Russell and Jeff Baena
Starring Dustin Hoffman, Isabelle Huppert, Jude Law, Jason Schwartzman, Lily Tomlin, Mark Wahlberg, Naomi Watts


I Heart Huckabees

At last: a film so original, so witty, so off-the-wall inventive, so rich with details that slip past before we're even aware of them, that I can guarantee you it will die at the box office. That's "I Heart Huckabees," cowritten and directed by David O. Russell ("Spanking the Monkey," "Flirting With Disaster," and "Three Kings") and destined I know for an early death in theatres, but also certain to be resurrected as a DVD hit.

Like another brilliant original, "The Royal Tenenbaums," "I Heart Huckabees" stares at the world with a blank face that conceals one of the most richly textured creations in years. Jason Schwartzman is Albert Markovski, lost leader of a terminally split save-the-earth group, who's trying to hold onto a last patch of sacred suburban marsh that Huckabees, a Wal-Mart-like big box store, is insinuating itself into through its PR guy Brad Stand (Jude Law) and Brad's girlfriend Dawn Campbell (Naomi Watts), who's the company's television-commercial star. Albert has hired the existential detectives Bernard and Vivian (Dustin Hoffman in a wonderful Beatles mop, and Lily Tomlin in a parade of pastel suits) to help him find himself at this time of crisis. Bernard's theory of everything (the universe as a blanket containing everything from the Eiffel Tower to your fingertip) is certainly as good as anybody else's, and Vivian's ubiquitous spying comes directly from a Ben Turpin silent comedy.

But there's more: There's Isabelle Huppert, the French bombshell who was Bernard and Vivian's great student but who then turned to what they would call the dark side; her philosophical thesis is "Cruelty, Manipulation, Meaninglessness." And yet she and Albert find sex very meaningful indeed. Oh, and of course there's the firefighter Tommy Corn, Albert's friend and enemy, played with wonderful good humor by an unexpectedly expert Mark Wahlberg.

How all these people meet, fight, love, mistake each other and ultimately reach a kind of resolution, is the story of "I Heart Huckabees." In other words this is a film, simply and complicatedly, about finding oneself. Which, by the end, is pretty much what everybody does. What makes it magical for me is its go for broke, take-no-prisoners structure, from the largest concept to the tightest closeup. Russell has made a film that owes little or nothing to anybody else, and he's made it work on its own terms. We're free to join the group or run away; he makes no effort to hold us. It's rare that a work of art is both original and successful in its mission; I think of "Pulp Fiction," "Run Lola Run," "The Royal Tenenbaums" and "Adaptation." And now I would put "I Heart Huckabees" in that group. Try to see it before it dies.