Film Review: ‘Life During Wartime’ Provides Haunting Coda to ‘Happiness’

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HollywoodChicago.com Oscarman rating: 3.0/5.0
Rating: 3.0/5.0

CHICAGO – Todd Solondz’s 1998 masterpiece, “Happiness,” is the darkest American comedy ever made. It’s so brutal and uncompromising that it calls into question the very definition of comedy. When one character explains to her sister that she isn’t laughing at her, but with her, the sister responds, “But I’m not laughing.” Solondz isn’t laughing either.

Like many provocateurs, Solondz has been accused of resorting to cheap shock tactics and stereotypes when attempting to portray his distinctively disturbing worldview. Yet Solondz is nothing if not sincere. His films directly confront the puritanical and judgmental instincts embedded in the human psyche that prevent us from identifying with others. He forces us to acknowledge the humanity lying within society’s most reviled creatures, particularly those suffering from arrested sexual development. The riotous laughter that “Happiness” elicited from audiences was undoubtedly caused by extreme discomfort rather than unbridled hilarity.

StarRead Matt Fagerholm’s full review of “Life During Wartime” in our reviews section.

I doubt that many audiences will have the same reaction to “Life During Wartime.” It is a deeply intriguing though ultimately inessential follow-up to “Happiness,” revisiting the same ensemble of characters from the previous film, played by an entirely different ensemble of actors. This casting conceit wouldn’t be so jarring if “Happiness” weren’t such an impossible film to forget. No matter how good Shirley Henderson, Michael K. Williams and Ciarán Hinds are as performers, they can’t possibly erase the memory of Jane Adams, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Dylan Baker, the actors who indelibly inhabited their respective roles. And yet, this may be Solondz’s point, since his sequel is about people who fool themselves into believing that they can escape the past simply by changing the scenery. This theme was explored to far greater success in Solondz’s brilliant 2004 effort “Palindromes,” which cast actors of varying ages, races and genders in the role of a thirteen-year-old girl.

StarContinue reading for Matt Fagerholm’s full “Life During Wartime” review.

‘Life During Wartime’ stars Shirley Henderson, Allison Janney, Dylan Riley Snyder, Ciarán Hinds, Michael Lerner, Chris Marquette, Michael K. Williams, Ally Sheedy, Charlotte Rampling, Rich Pecci, Gaby Hoffman and Paul Reubens. It was written and directed by Todd Solondz. It opened on August 6th at the Music Box. It is rated R.

Paul Reubens and Shirley Henderson star in Todd Solondz’s Life During Wartime.
Paul Reubens and Shirley Henderson star in Todd Solondz’s Life During Wartime.
Photo credit: IFC Films

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