"It's kind of like this. Listen."
Plucking away on a spankin' new guitar just purchased at a 7th street pawn shop, Jason Schwartzman musically describes his new film, I Heart Huckabees. Shortly after picking a string, he retunes it and giddily shows how the note ascends.
"See? It just all comes together, you know?" No, not really, but how else can one figure out this movie? Advertised as "an existentialist comedy," Huckabees is an ensemble cast film that includes more than a hint of philosophy. The film is the brainchild of director David O. Russell. One of the more distinguished filmmakers of his generation, whose canon includes Flirting with Disaster and Three Kings, Russell himself has trouble explaining Huckabees' premise.
"It incorporates a lot of Far Eastern philosophy I studied in college," Russell explains. So no Sartre or Camus? "No, it's strictly Eastern. Eastern philosophy is considerably more mind-expanding."
In 1998, Russell and Schwartzman met at a Los Angeles party. Schwartzman, at the time reveling in the success of his sleeper-hit comedy Rushmore, immediately hit it off with the burgeoning director. The two have remained friends, and Huckabees is the result of years of collaboration.
"I wanted to write a part for Jason after seeing Rushmore," Russell elucidates, "so really, Huckabees has been in the making for six years." Those six years were not in vain. Teeming with intellectualism, rapid plot changes and whip-smart humor, Huckabees is a bold film that attempts to expand the viewer's horizons -- and to have fun doing it. "After Three Kings," Russell notes, "I just wanted to have a good time. Sure, we have a lot of intellectual crap in there, but to a certain extent, it's all tongue-in-cheek." Irony aside, Huckabees is downright hilarious. This success is largely attributable to the star-studded cast. Besides Schwartzman, the film features Dustin Hoffman, Naomi Watts, Jude Law, Mark Wahlberg and others at their comedic best. The weaving plot finds these actors meshing together in a web of retail stores, "existential detectives"and firefighters. According to Schwartzman, the gel that holds this potentially chaotic script together is the interactions between the characters. "In a lot of ensemble comedies," he explains, "the actors are rarely all connected. Instead, the script finds a way to "weave' their individual stories. [Huckabees] puts it all together."
Interestingly enough for two such zestful entertainers, Huckabees is the first major film for either since the late '90s. Schwartzman's role is his largest since Rushmore, which begs the question, why such a long wait? "I wanted to find the right story, and I knew that David [Russell] would create something stunning, so I guess it's just a matter of the right script at the right time," he clarifies. Similarly, Russell, inactive since 1999's Three Kings, has been devoting enormous amounts of time to the writing, casting and directing of Huckabees. Considering that he has "had the movie in [his] mind since college," he "knew it needed to be perfect."
Sure, I Heart Huckabees appears slightly confusing at first. But in the age of American Idol, voyeuristic reality tv shows and blow-em-up blockbusters, isn't it about time we have a film that makes us laugh at and ponder the same punch line? Perhaps that's what Schwartzman meant with his guitar -- "it just all comes together"