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Feature: 'Huckabees' has nerve

By PAT NASON, UPI Hollywood Reporter   |   Oct. 25, 2004 at 7:26 PM
LOS ANGELES, Oct. 25 (UPI) -- The film "I (Heart) Huckabees" has an all-star cast including Dustin Hoffman, Lilly Tomlin and Jude Law -- but otherwise it comes off as sort of an anti-Hollywood movie that practically dares audiences to live without many of the comfortable conventions that movies typically rely on to ingratiate themselves with the public.

Commercial movies don't ask much from audiences, with the exception of the age-old request that audiences willingly suspend their disbelief so they can buy into fantasies that are a staple of mainstream storytelling. The more commercial the movie, the more likely it is to spoon-feed audiences and to avoid the risks associated with challenging mainstream audiences to accept movies as anything more than entertaining diversions.

"I (Heart) Huckabees" takes the risk -- going into the marketplace as a comedy that, in general, only works if audiences are willing to suspend the usual insistence on obvious, simplistic moviemaking.

David O. Russell's movie opens wide in U.S. theaters this week, after playing in limited release for the past four weeks. So far, the picture has grossed $5.8 million -- even while collecting generally favorable reviews.

Much of the praise for "I (Heart) Huckabees" has been directed at Jon Brion, who wrote the music -- as he did for "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind," another out-of-the-mainstream comedy with a high-profile cast (Jim Carrey, Kate Winslet).

Brion -- who also composed the scores for "Magnolia" and "Punch-Drunk Love" -- has so far steered away from the big, sweeping scores that have traditionally accompanied Hollywood movies. Instead, he has favored music with a more "pop" feel -- music that works at a more personal level.

Brion told United Press International that approach was in keeping with the themes of "I (Heart) Huckabees" -- personal identity, existential angst and the meaning of life. He also agreed that it is a bit daring for a big-time Hollywood movie to treat those themes as the text, rather than the subtext, of the story.

"But the basic truth is, these are the dilemmas that face all of us," he said. "Of course, it should be entertaining and thought-provoking, and there's no reason why it shouldn't be."

To be sure, Brion said comedy is probably the best way to treat such weighty issues.

"So many of the best things that have gotten through -- certainly in American culture -- have gotten through in comedy," he said. "The best writing on television has been on comedies."

Fans of dramas such as "The West Wing" and "ER" might quibble with that assessment, but "Frasier" is at the top of the list of all-time Emmy-winning series, followed by "The Mary Tyler Moore Show."

In any case, Brion enjoys working with directors who step outside the mainstream -- because that's what he likes to do with his music.

"All the people I'm working with are truly creative in nature," he said, "and they are less likely, if I play something oddball, to go, 'Oh, can you make that more normal?'"

Brion said directors sometimes tell him a piece of music he has come up with is not appropriate for what they had in mind, and sometimes they will tell him a piece of music is "too typical." But generally he said he is having fun working with directors who want to "mess with people's notion" of what a soundtrack is.

"They're excited that someone's coming in going, 'Well, here's what people normally do and I don't want to do any of that,'" he said.

Although Brion did use an 80-piece orchestra for some of the music on "Magnolia," he said he'd like eventually to do a big, sweeping score.

"I think it would be totally fun to do all sorts of things," he said. "I don't want to have a specific sound. I'd love to do some really ridiculous, gigantic, blockbuster stuff if it was also good -- some big comedy or something else."

For now -- just like "I (Heart) Huckabees" -- Brion said he needs to play up his individualism. He said he is consciously bucking peer pressure -- the societal impulse to be like everybody else.

"If you don't make a choice to break away from it, it never stops for the rest of your life," he said. "When you see other individuals who have actually been rewarded for individuality, rather than be chastised for it, I will gladly be a loudmouth and take my lumps for it."

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(Please send comments to nationaldesk@upi.com.)

© 2004 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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