Quirky existensial film raises big question for its viewers

Perhaps we’ve all wondered, at one point or another, why it is that we are here. Is our entire existence part of some interrelated work? Are there no coincidences? Or, does everything stand on its own, isolated from some larger meaning?

In David O. Russell’s latest film, the existential comedy “I Heart Huckabees,” these are the questions that poet and environmentalist Albert Markovski tries to answer. After experiencing an alarming series of coincidences, Albert (Jason Schwartzman) sets out to find meaning. He hires two “Existential Detectives” (Dustin Hoffman and Lily Tomlin) to help him understand his life, his relationships and his conflicts with the popular executive Brad Stand (Jude Law).

Soon, Brad hires the detectives as well, who dig deep into his life and his relationship with girlfriend Dawn Campbell (Naomi Watts). Albert partners with firefighter Tommy Corn (Mark Wahlberg), who swears that all of the country’s problems are a result of the use of petroleum. Together, Albert and Tommy try to understand the meaning behind life, eventually teaming up with a French radical, Caterine Vauban (Isabelle Huppert).

This may seem like a lot, and it is. The premise of “I Heart Huckabees” is often wacky and always quirky. What makes the film so good is its ability to cross genres and finally rise above any category. It shares strong connections to the films “Being John Malkovich” and “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” while the style and characters of the film are quite reminiscent of “The Royal Tenenbaums” and some of the themes even bring us back to “Fahrenheit 9/11.” Ultimately, it is its own entity, separate and unique from other popular movies and possibly the oddest and most off-the-wall film that has enjoyed mainstream release this year.

Russell (“Spanking the Monkey,” “Flirting with Disaster,” “Three Kings”) takes the ideas of the film one step further, also incorporating them into the film visually. At times, a character’s eyes, nose and mouth will literally float off his or her face. Russell also includes some interesting sequences in which we enter the mind of Albert, sometimes seeing him chop off people’s heads with a machete.

The performances raise the film far above the standard level of filmmaking. Loaded with stars, the movie enjoys the energy which great acting can bring to the screen. Schwartzman is a natural in his role and a shaggy-haired Hoffman comes off as quirky as ever.

Law also contributes a top-notch performance – he constantly proves himself to be more and more capable with each role he plays. It was Wahlberg, however, who stole the show. His fireman character was not only a major part of the plot and theme of the film, but also fun to watch as he would ride his bike to fires in an effort to protect the environment.

“I Heart Huckabees” is entertaining and funny, yet it is also probing and thought-provoking. Over and over, it forces audiences to ask, “How am I not myself?” – a question which will puzzle the characters of the film along with even the most intelligent moviegoer. While it is a film that some people will dismiss for being either too heavy or too light, it is creative and bright, filled with the issues that people face everyday. But ultimately, what makes “I Heart Huckabees” a success is its own existence.