I'm inclined to appreciate anything that brings together a wall-to-wall cast
like the one in this philosophical farce, but I couldn't help wishing for
something with a little more coherence. Where is Charlie Kaufmann
("Adaptation", "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless
Mind") when you need him?
If existentialism was defined by a series of coincidences, then the series of
them that has Albert Markovski (Jason Schwartzman) so in need of help may
indeed be that definition of a lonely universe. Whether it's a non-sequitir
or not, in this activist's over-boiled mind, his chance sightings of an
outsized doorman in three places has him questioning his existence. Or,
rather, existence itself.
Another choice coincidence leads him to a pair of goof balls operating under
the shingle of "Existential Detectives." Just don't call Bernard and Vivian
Jaffe (Dustin Hoffman and Lily Tomlin) shrinks or therapists. Their job is
to observe their subjects as they live their lives in an attempt to nurture
the metaphysical obstructions screwing with their lives. It may be therapy
but it has nothing to do with couches or confessions. This is a practice
based more on mind abstraction than on emotions.
Sooner than Markovski would wish, the investigation uncovers his
displacement at work by fair haired executive Brad Stand (Jude Law) who is
taking over as the leader of the advertising firm whose primary client is
the Huckabees chain of superstores and whose campaign slogan is "I Heart
Huckabees" and whose practices have been injuring the planet. Stand has the
inside track, which is only aided an abetted by the fact that he's charming
and handsome and lives with the sexy spokesbody... er, person, for the
corporation: blonde Dawn (Naomi Watts).
As Stand's inflexible ambition destines Markovski for greater and greater
failure and disappointment, and as his imperturbable guides take on Stand,
then Dawn as clients, they pair Markovski up with a fireman client,
soulsearcher Tommy (Mark Wahlberg) who becomes his alter ego and
Lest we think our existential detectives are one of a kind, their primary
competition shows up, seemingly pulled away from some French movie. She is
none other than the notorious book writer on the subject and sexy French
philosopher Caterine Vauban (Isabelle Huppert) who will not draw the line on
how she seduces minds and hearts.
Which brings up the subject of the actors. It's always heartening to see
major players glom onto the unusual, risking the effect of unproven material.
But, for artists, risk is what it's about. If you asked me to name the most
creative male and best female actors around these days, I'd be likely to pick
Jude Law and Naomi Watts in their respective gender categories. They
established that position in my regard in movies such as "Mullholland Drive" and "21 Grams" for Watts; "The Talented Mr. Ripley" and
"The Road to Perdition" for
Law. And, here they are working together and breathing creative dimensions
and great style into very challenging parts.
Jason Schwartzman is another story altogether. The buzz in the columns is
that this well-connected offspring of luminaries is another Dustin Hoffman.
So, what do they do? They bring Hoffman in to play against him, as though to
put a further spin on the myth. So, I guess I should feel bad that I
couldn't make the kind of connection with him that was instant and notorious
in Hoffman's work at a similar age. To me, there is a certain boredom factor
in this presence on screen, though I acknowledge it may have something to do
with the way the part is written.
Somewhere in the melange and despite the good work in it, there's a
semi-serious struggle going on between fancy concepts, symbolism galore, and
idiocy-inspired camp. If it doesn't drown you in a tidal wave of
self-questioning (bordering on the batty), it will spin you around in the
clowny vortex of an alternative filmmaking universe. It may not, however,
transcend into boxoffice paranormality.
What it is, I know not. But, the talent extravaganza makes it what it is.
~~ Jules Brenner