I Heart Huckabees review

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Tough sell, this. So tough that co-writer/ helmer David O Russell couldn't sell it for some time - - his fevered pitch met with arched eyebrows and blank eyes. Imagine it: "There's this guy, right - he's a poetry-penning tree-hugger who's not sure if life is meaningful or futile and if we're connected or individual. So he hires a pair of bickering existential 'tecs to rake his soul and pick his brain. They find crisis and conflict: a long-running feud with a corporate golden boy who works at Huckabees superstore and dates a blonde bimbo spokesmodel. Then the tree-hugger rebels and joins forces with a French philosopher who practices `cruelty, manipulation and meaninglessness'. Oh, and there's this nihilistic firefighter who's obsessed with America's support of oil dictatorships in the Middle East following 9/11..." High concept? High on crack, more like.

Thankfully, a bunch of actors got it, and their glittery names - - Jason Schwarztman (tree-hugger), Jude Law (corporate golden boy), Naomi Watts (spokesmodel), Mark Wahlberg (firefighter), Isabelle Huppert (French philsopher) and Dustin Hoffman and Lily Tomlin (existential gumshoes) - meant that Fox Searchlight got it. The result is one of the smartest, funniest movies imaginable, a cerebral comedy to rival the blissful eccentricities of Being John Malkovich, The Royal Tenenbaums and Punch-Drunk Love.

Shot clean and crisp by Mulholland Drive DoP Peter Deming, the stark backdrops allow the cast of colourful oddballs to provide all the necessary clutter through the clatter of their gobs. And what clatter, our anguished soul-searchers engaging in philosophical pontifications to leave Morpheus strumming his chin and Neo speechless ("Woah" doesn't count).

But there's more to Huckabees than barely intelligible (yet hugely amusing) debates about physics, meta or quantum. The real joy of O Russell's movie is its giddy willingness to kangaroo through the gears, from scholastic one-liners to farce to slapstick to gross-out to explosive profanity. Not laughing at Hoffman's theory of interconnectedness? Don't worry, Schwartzman's about to smash Wahlberg's face with a rubber ball. Untickled by the sight of Lily Tomlin rooting, upturned, through a dumpster for clues? Then enjoy an ecstatic Huppert being smeared in mud ready for a damn good shagging. That it all hangs together is a miracle. But it does, and amen to that.

Superbly acted, shrewdly constructed and fiendishly original, Huckabees also finds time for sly political potshots against corporate America. If there's a fault, it's that this tornado of brainy brilliance swirls around an emotional vacuum, Huckabees lacking About Schmidt's poignancy or Rushmore's heart. Thing is, you'll be laughing too hard to care.

Making an 'existential farce' is a tough task, but David O Russell flirts with disaster to find meaning and merriment. Hilarious and provocative.

The Total Film team are made up of the finest minds in all of film journalism. They are: Editor Jane Crowther, Deputy Editor Matt Maytum, Reviews Ed Matthew Leyland, News Editor Jordan Farley, and Online Editor Emily Murray. Expect exclusive news, reviews, features, and more from the team behind the smarter movie magazine.