TORONTO—The number of high-profile American indies—including David Gordon Green’s Undertow, Alexander Payne’s Sideways, and Lodge Kerrigan’s Keane—that chose to have their world premieres on Yonge Street, rather than the Lido, only confirms Toronto’s status as the world’s most competitive noncompetitive film festival.
David O. Russell’s star-studded I ♥ Huckabees, which opens here next week, is another such prize. A New Age screwball comedy, blithe, talky, and tricked out with playful graphics, it has the frantic pace of Flirting With Disaster—something Russell himself does in juggling a showy if uneven cast. Protag Jason Schwartzman lacks the requisite anguish for the Ben Stiller role of an angry young poet cum eco-activist battling Jude Law’s corporate hotshot for the job of saving a tract of marshland from Law’s Wal-Mart-like corporate employer, Huckabees.
For reasons ultimately related to saving the marsh or not, Schwartzman hires a pair of self-proclaimed existential detectives (a corseted Lily Tomlin and Beatle-maned Dustin Hoffman) to explain a particular coincidence; their presence allows for an ongoing debate on the nature of the universe and the meaning of life. There’s more than a bit of Charlie Kaufman to the heady premise, although the scenario doesn’t double back on itself—except perhaps in the joke of having Schwartzman’s actual mother, Talia Shire, play his mother on-screen.
Clever as it is, I ♥ Huckabees—pronounced “I Heart Huckabees”—is mainly a pageant of symbolic dummies. The richest of these are Isabelle Huppert’s professional nihilist, Mark Wahlberg’s poignantly petroleum-obsessed firefighter, and Naomi Watts’s living corporate logo. (At one point, she’s stricken by a severe realness attack and goes Amish.) Structured as a series of interlocking breakdowns, Huckabees is a sort of static whirligig—too heavy to soar but too light to ever fall flat.