I HEART HUCKABEES directed by David O. Russell, written by Russell and Jeff Baena, produced by Russell, Gregory Goodman and Scott Rudin, with Jason Schwartzman, Mark Wahlberg, Jude Law, Naomi Watts, Dustin Hoffman, Lily Tomlin and Isabelle Huppert. A Fox Searchlight release. Opens Friday (October 8). For review, venues and times, see Movies, page 100. Rating: NNNN Rating: NNNN
David O. Russell tilts his chair back far enough to risk a pratfall and finds the punchline to end his story.
"As a Zen monk once said, 'If you're not laughing, you're not in on the joke. '"
Zen-trained himself, Russell eases his feet back to earth and lets the monk's joke circle round for a second.
He runs one hand through his hair and says, "I just see a momentum to things."
He's talking about I Heart Huckabees, his manic, mind-fuck follow-up to Three Kings, but it applies to just about everything Russell says today. Things are connected, and they connect fast.
"One thing you can say about the movie, whether you like it or not, is that it moves quickly, and I think engagingly. It may leave you in the dust a few times, but if you have to see it again, that's OK. Why do you have to get everything the first time?
"There's a momentum to life that's a little chaotic," he continues. "What's funny to me is people trying to master that. Ultimately, you can't master it, you can't control it and you can't have the god's eye view."
As a Zen monk once said.
Huckabees is like nothing else in the cinema right now, a farce about being and nothingness, a satire about anxious, post-9/11 America that explodes in leaps of logic.
Launching Huckabees at last month's Toronto International Film Festival, Russell is a nervous bundle of nonchalance, tossing off thoughts on Buddhist New Yorkers, Hollywood economics and on how Warner Brothers squelched the release of his Iraq documentary, Soldiers Pay.
"I think they're afraid of not being able to get political favours in Washington if they offend the administration," he says, although he allows that "it was gracious of them to give it back to me, because they could have gagged it, they could have put it in a closet."
Politics, movies and philosophy race heats in Russell's mind. Sometimes they all hit the tape together.
"I think it's a political act to inquire into the nature of consciousness and to not just accept everyday consciousness per se," he says, folding a gum wrapper into a shiny point. "Why would you watch TV without a channel changer? Why would you let your mind be on automatic pilot every day, without inquiring into it? That's what the people in this movie are all about - they're people who want to inquire."
He traces his own inquiry to a college essay he wrote about the American overthrow of Salvador Allende in Chile.
"That just really changed my whole perspective on everything," he says. "I thought, 'This is fucked up. Things are not what they appear to be, and you'd better ask questions. '"
That led to what he now calls a "disillusioning" trip to Nicaragua and a stint standing in mall parking lots "handing out flyers to clean up a toxic waste dump in Maine.
"That's why I love the character in Rushmore," he confesses. "I'm one of those guys who goes out and says, 'Let's form a club. Let's hand out flyers. '"
Russell courted Rushmore star Jason Schwartzman for the lead in Huckabees, inviting him over to read a draft screenplay.
"I went to his house, and there was this really thick script," Schwartzman recalls, "all on that paper that's uncopyable. It's like that dark red FBI paper."
He says it took him nine hours to read it.
He immersed himself completely in the risk and chaos of Huckabees, Schwartzman says. "You will do anything for David, because you trust that he'll do anything for you."
Russell wears a multicoloured woven ribbon around his wrist that might be Tibetan in origin. It contrasts with his slick silver Costume National suit, and it's the only sign of peace about the man.
In an interview on the same day, co-star Mark Wahlberg says, "I tell David, 'Slow down. Let the therapist chill for a while. Come to church and get back to the basics. '"
But that's not Russell's path.
"Comedy is how I survive," he says. "And if we lose on November 2, that's how I will survive. Either that or I'll come here to Canada."