I Heart Huckabees  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

I Heart Huckabees, also known as I Love Huckabees, and written as I ♥ Huckabees, is a 2004 American philosophical film produced and directed by David O. Russell, who co-wrote the screenplay with Jeff Baena. The film reunites Russell with actor Mark Wahlberg, who had previously worked together on the 1999 film Three Kings.



Albert Markovski (Schwartzmann) is a young man who heads the local chapter of an environmental group, the "Open Spaces Coalition." Hoping to find the answer to what would seem to be an absurd coincidence in his life, he contacts two existential detectives, Bernard and Vivian Jaffe (Hoffman and Tomlin). These detectives offer Albert their optimistic brand of existentialism — they name it universal interconnectivity (this has some tenets of romantic or even transcendentalist philosophies) — and spy on him, ostensibly to help him solve the coincidence. Brad Stand (Law) is a shallow power executive at Huckabees, a chain of stores akin to Wal-Mart or Target (Mike Huckabee was the governor of Arkansas, Wal-Mart's home state, at the time of the film's release). He infiltrates Open Spaces and charismatically displaces Albert as the leader. Dawn Campbell (Watts) is Brad's live-in girlfriend and the face and voice of Huckabees; she appears in all of the store's commercials.

Bernard and Vivian introduce Albert to Tommy Corn (Wahlberg), an obsessively anti-petroleum firefighter. Tommy is assigned to Albert as his Other. Tommy ends up abandoning and undermining the Jaffes by introducing Albert to Caterine Vauban, a former student of the Jaffes' who espouses a seemingly opposing nihilistic/absurdist philosophy.

She teaches them to disconnect their inner beings from their daily lives and their problems, to synthesize a non-thinking state of "pure being." Being lifted from their troubles, they wish to keep that feeling forever, yet she tells them that it is inevitable to be drawn back to the human drama, and to understand that the core truth of that drama is misery and meaninglessness.

Meanwhile, in Brad's further attempts to undercut Albert, he and Dawn also meet and are influenced by Bernard and Vivian. However, his plan backfires when the detectives probe Dawn and him, causing Dawn to reject her superficial iconic status as a beautiful model and him to realize that his whole ascent in the corporate ladder is meaningless, as he has lived his whole life just trying to please others and not himself.

All the storylines collide when Albert accidentally sets Brad's house on fire. Tommy comes to put the fire out and in the process, saves and falls in love with Dawn, who was inside the house at the time. Brad despairs at the destruction of his house, the symbol of his material success.

Albert attains a sort of enlightenment when he synthesizes the two opposing outlooks of the Jaffes and Vauban to realize the cosmic truth of everything. By way of sympathy for Brad, who is now just as dejected and hopeless as Albert was at the beginning of the movie, Albert understands that he and Brad are no different, that everything really is inextricably connected, but that these connections necessarily arise from the often senselessly painful reality of human existence.

In an interview with the Suicide Girls website, director David Russell said in response to the question "How do you describe I Heart Huckabees?":

Here’s how I described it to the people who financed the movie. Dustin Hoffman and Lily Tomlin are existential detectives who you could hire to investigate the meaning of your life. They are formal, they wear suits, they are Paris-trained and their clients include Jude Law, Naomi Watts, Jason Schwartzman and Mark Wahlberg. Their nemesis is Isabelle Huppert. Hilarity ensues.


Supporting characters


The film opened October 1, 2004 with a record-setting $73,044 per screen average in New York and Los Angeles. Critical opinion for the film was mixed. Some critics were displeased with the overabundance of light metaphysical and philosophical subject matter while others praised the film's quirky humor and introduction to existentialism. Some found the screenplay, written by David O. Russell and Jeff Baena, to be dizzying and unfocused while many celebrated its inventiveness and originality. Most critics agreed that the actors' performances were well done, particularly that of Mark Wahlberg as Tommy Corn.

Despite some harsh reviews, the film has drawn a cult following since its initial release and has performed well in DVD sales.


Jon Brion provided the score and seven original songs for the film. His unique methods for writing previous film scores (Punch-Drunk Love, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) involved very close collaboration with the director. Through this process, David O. Russell was able to sit in the same room with Brion and watch an early cut of the film. Russell described what he wanted to portray and Brion would compose music to Russell's descriptions. The process can be seen on a featurette on the film's special edition DVD.

David O. Russell, while working with Brion, had come across Brion's first solo album, Meaningless. Russell has mentioned that Brion's album asks similar questions to the ones Russell was trying to ask with I Heart Huckabees. In particular, Russell notes that the questions on Meaningless are closer to the questions directed from Caterine Vauban's negative and dark point of view.

See also

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