Christmas with the Kranks

Starring Dustin Hoffman, Lili Tomlin, Naomi Watts, Jude Law, Naomi Watts and Jason Schwartzman. Directed by Daniel O. Russell.
Running Time: 106 mins
Huckabees is a large chain of cheap department stores in the USA. It's a thinly veiled allegory for Wal-Mart. Albert Markovski (Schwartzman) is an environmentalist campaigning against the expansion of the Huckabees' chain. Huckabees' executive Brad Stand (Law) joins Albert's ecological lobby, takes it over, and expels Albert from the organisation.

Sent into a crisis of meaning, Albert seeks out an existential investigating team, Bernard (Hoffman) and Vivian (Tomlin). This very eccentric couple offer their clients the ability to discover the purpose and meaning of existence. They follow Albert everywhere, recording all his movements, and analysing with him, the significance of all this activity for his life's destiny.

Unexpectedly Bernard and Vivian's former protégé and now archrival Caterine Vauban (Isabelle Huppert) arrives in town. She tries to persuade Albert that rather than follow Bernard and Vivian's belief that the universe is connected, he will only be happy when he accepts that the universe, and his life, is cruel, manipulated and meaningless.

Meanwhile Brad and his girlfriend Dawn (Watts) get drawn into Vivian and Bernard's circle as well with like-changing effects.

If this storyline sounds complex, you're right!

I Love Huckabees is a brave if flawed satirical comedy on the nature of reality.

It has a very verbal script, which explores the ground upon which Catholics philosophers have made their living for centuries.

That said, and despite an outstanding cast delivering good performances, I Love Huckabees lurches from some inspired moments to several dull, flat patches. The eccentricities of the characters undermine the importance of the issues.

The genre of satire is a good and venerable way in which to explore these issues, but on this occasion it works to distance the viewer from the material. I wonder how many people will reconsider the meaning of life five minutes after this film is over?

Students of philosophy will have fun picking the quotations of great minds throughout the film. For other viewers the often-used violent language and sex scenes may be disturbing.

In short I Love Huckabees is an uneven film which wears its intelligence a little too much on its sleeve. It's impressive that a film tries to tackle the big meaning of life questions, even though the answers given here are, in the main, a long way from what we hold to be true.

Fr Richard Leonard is the director of the Australian Catholic Film Office.

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