David O. Russell's smarty-pants head-trip, which aims to provoke discussion of big questions by wrapping them in hipster laughs, begins with a sputtering burst of profanity and ends up struggling in the sticky strands of its own elaborate contrivances. In the midst of an all-encompassing existential crisis, earnest environmental activist Albert Markovski (Jason Schwartzman) discovers a puzzling business card — "Vivian Jaffe -- Existential Detective" — in a borrowed suit jacket and decides to investigate a coincidence that strikes him as mysteriously portentous. On three separate, recent occasions his path has crossed that of a Sudanese stranger (Ger Duany) — three times! That must mean something, right? Vivian and Bernard Jaffe (Lily Tomlin, Dustin Hoffman) remain noncommittal on the question of synchronicity, but take Albert's case and commence spying on every aspect of his life, which is in fact a fine mess. He's estranged from his self-centered parents (Bob Gunton and Talia Shire, Schwartzman's real-life mother); pines for someone else's girlfriend; and is about to be booted out of the Open Spaces Coalition that he himself founded in favor of slick young marketing executive Brad Stand (Jude Law). Most galling of all, Stand works for the very corporate cancer, Target-like superstore Huckabees, whose environmentally unfriendly ambitions Markovski's coalition was established to root out. Oh, and the girl Albert wants is Brad's, artificially perky Huckabees spokesmodel Dawn Campbell (Naomi Watts). And there's more: Brad gets wind of Albert's little self-improvement project and hires the Jaffes to examine his life, too. Further complicating the situation are firefighter Tommy Corn (Mark Wahlberg), another Jaffe client whom they assign to serve as Albert's rearrangement-of-reality buddy, and Caterine Vauban (Isabelle Huppert), once the Jaffes' star pupil, now their implacable rival. Where the Jaffes espouse a Buddhist view of universal connectedness, Caterine preaches a philosophy of nihilistic negation. Russell's ambitions are lofty and his filmmaking is audacious: As Albert slices through layers of psychological armor, Russell serves up faces dissolving into pixelated fragments and psychological coping scenarios ("Picture someone you trust sitting in a tree …) rendered in the form of therapeutic video games. The result is a quirky curiosity that's cheeky, shrewdly clever and more than a little precious. When the average comedy is aimed at juvenile 12-year-olds of all ages, the fact that Russell's target audience is precocious 12-year-olds of all ages is a significant improvement without actually being a triumph of mature wit over boorish puerility.
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- Released: 2004
- Rating: R
- Review: David O. Russell's smarty-pants head-trip, which aims to provoke discussion of big questions by wrapping them in hipster laughs, begins with a sputtering burst of profanity and ends up struggling in the sticky strands of its own elaborate contrivances. In… (more)
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