Movie Notes: Happiness
= 5 stars
Starring Jane Adams, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Lara Flynn Boyle
Directed by Todd Solondz
Wanna-be musician Joy (Jane Adams) is unhappy. Her sister Trish, is a housewife who “has it all” but her psychiatrist husband Bill (Dylan Baker) is struggling with an attraction to young boys. Their attractive sister Helen (Lara Flynn Boyle) is being stalked by lonely introvert Allen (Philip Seymour Hoffman).
- This is inky-black, dark humor, an unflinching character study of serious misfits. All have borderline psychological problems, trapped in hells largely of their libido’s making. Seeing them struggle unsuccessfully to make sense of their predicament is, well, awkwardly funny.
- Hoffman, damn. Absolutely no shame in playing a complete loser who makes perverted phone calls while masturbating. There’s one amazing scene where he’s on a couch with Boyle – her outfit so inky black that she vanishes into the dark couch, and back into the anomie of a phone call. There’s also the charming Adams, constantly on the edge of a nervous breakdown yet providing a dark comic relief. And especially good is Dylan Baker who manages to make a despicable character, sympathetic.
- I found the absolute shamelessness on display, in terms of subject matter, quite refreshing – like taking a napalm torch to “oh, we can’t show that.”
- The film’s climax features the three sisters having dinner, toasting to their lives, and uh – let’s say the next generation is on its way.
- The pit of strangeness and despair keeps digging deeper, as if Solondz is testing how much we can handle. I’d not be surprised if many throw in the towel.
Let’s face it: some just aren’t meant to be happy. The sooner one realizes this, you can stop being so miserable. Also, one person’s happiness can be another’s idea of hell. These contradictions, with heavy doses of sexual deviancy and frustration, inform a bold, slash-and-burn sense of humor.
I honestly think society would be a better place if we acknowledged the unhappy people in this movie rather than pretending they don’t exist. The realization of our collective unhappiness – oddly, made me feel better about myself.
Rotten Tomatoes: Happiness