Few directors working today possess the creative sovereignty of David O. Russell. It is rare to get a major studio to greenlight a picture such as “I Y Huckabees,” because of its highly idiosyncratic nature. Who else can get a film made about existential detectives, which requires the use of the Wingdings font whenever typing out the title?
His accomplishment is also amazing because Russell had made only three movies prior to Huckabees, including the coming-of-age, familial love romp “Spanking the Monkey” (1994) and the surreal Gulf War satire, “Three Kings” (1999).
During his 10-year career, Russell has developed a reputation within Hollywood circles as quirky, extremely sensitive and often volatile. An illustration of such behavior occurred at the premiere of “Spanking the Monkey,” where the filmmaker reportedly took a man’s handkerchief, proceeded to blow his nose and then give the mucus-covered cloth back to the owner.
Russell’s unpredictable nature carried over in his vision for “I Y Huckabees,” as he unconventionally utilized existential and Buddhist principles in order to create a manic atmosphere of psychological pressure for the actors on the set. For example, one day during filming, Russell, armed with a bullhorn, ran onto the public street, clad in only boxers, and began to dance around while yelling explicit comments to the actors. In between bursts of yelling, the director took breaks to pose in a variety of graphically-revealing yoga positions. His motive for these actions was to create a mood of wackiness and chaos that would inspire risk and absurdity within the actors’ performances.
This manic and often disruptive atmosphere comes across fluidly in the film, as each performance is peppered with back-and-forth exchanges that appear trying for all the actors. The brilliant ensemble cast, including Jason Schwartzman, Jude Law, Lily Tomlin, Dustin Hoffman, Marc Walberg and Naomi Watts, engages in an uphill battle of enacting the random layers of existentialism, identity crises, humor and love that are found in the storyline. Notably, the bells-and-strings score by Jon Brion (the producer who has worked with the likes of Fiona Apple and Kanye West) adds an eccentric twist to compliment the various elements brought to the silver screen.
In a departure from typical Hollywood narratives, “Huckabees” switches from character to character and journey to journey, as Russell aims to transcend not only the bounds of a conventional comedy, but also the existential barriers of film itself. As a result, the director’s aspirations lead to inconsistencies regarding plot connectivity and coherence. Despite these shortcomings, it is most important to recognize Russell’s quirkiness and confidence as an auteur, which ultimately inspired him to create the unique film that is “I Y Huckabees.”
“I Y Huckabees” will be screened four times in the Connelly Center Cinema: Saturday, April 1st, at 7 pm, Sunday April 2, at 3:30 and 7 p.m., and, Monday Aril 3, at 7 p.m. Admission is $3.50 for students with ID and $5 for everyone else. The Monday showing only will feature guest speaker Heather Hicks, who will provide an intro to the film and lead a discussion afterward.
For more information, please call X9-4750 on weekdays between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m., or consult the CFS web site: www.culturalfilms.villanova.edu/