Sunday, 14 March 2010

I'm Living In A State Of Irony.

With Todd Solondz it is always best to go in emotionally prepared. Woe betide the poor soul who inadvertently picks up a copy of, say, Pallindromes and goes home expecting to see a film about word games and poetry. Or his most misleading title - Happiness.

Yes, Happiness is about the quest for exactly that in the lives of the characters, but they sure as shit don't find it. The film is centred by one family, parents and two daughters, but the driving forces of the film are more those that are around them, satellites of the family core. Helen (Lara Flynn Boyle) is a successful writer, too clever for her own good, unable to get anything and anyone she wants into bed with her, but convinced that they are all empty. Her neighbour Allen (Philip Seymour Hoffman) is fascinated by her but can't get the nerve up to ask her out, instead left to calling her with obscene phone calls. She eventually rejects him, and he is devastated, unable to notice that another of his neighbours (Camryn Manheim) is quite possibly the person he needs.

Helen's sister Trish (Cynthia Stevenson) is happily married with kids, to psychiatrist Bill (Dylan Baker) - what she doesn't realise is that he is a pedophile. But she'll find out! Oh, she'll find out. After he's molested a couple of friends of his eleven year old son, that is.

Their older sister Joy (Jane Adams) is a struggling musician trying to discover her place in the world. Alone and unsure why, she quits her job at a call centre when she discovers the oppressively anonymous culture there, instead becoming a teacher at an immigrant centre, where she embarks on a brief relationship with Vlad (Jared Harris), the only time she really seems happy. Of course, he is simply using her, taking her happiness and her money.

Their parents Mona and Lenny (Louise Lasser and Ben Gazzara) are in the process of splitting up. Not divorcing, no, no one ever said anything about divorce, but they're no longer together as man and wife. Lenny just wants to be alone, and soon discovers that he is in fact incapable of emotion.

It's body blow after body blow. A great script from Solondz keeps you interested in these characters who are in their own ways despicable, but also so identifiable as that bit inside of you that is always afraid of failing to find that holy grail of life. It's not an easy film to watch - while the molestation scenes are never shown, the way Bill talks is exceptionally graphic in a very simple kind of way, making it very hard to listen to. And then just the sheer desperation of all of the characters, the continual moroseness of the world in which they live, is very hard to bear. The performances are uniformly great, and it is hard to single out any particular actor for praise, as, especially within their own little sub-world, each of them holds down exactly what they need to. It was nice to see Flynn Boyle and Manheim (also co-stars on The Practice, back in the day) playing around on screen - I can't remember the last time I saw either of them.

Harsh, hostile and unfair, Happiness highlights those elements of humanity we'd all like to pretend weren't there - a Solondz specialty. 4 stars.

No comments:

Post a Comment