It's one of those films that is almost impossible to sum up. It's really a long collection of short interconnecting sketches that detail the personal quirks of a dozen or so characters and the skeletons in their closets they'd probably wouldn't want us to know about.
The main thread of the plot is the three Jordan sisters who are all dealing with their own individual crisis. Firstly we meet Joy, who is having dinner with the boyfriend she's just dumped. Joy is insecure, vulnerable, naive and a little goofy. When Andy, her ex-boyfriend, commits suicide days later and she receives a nasty phone call from Andy's mother, she quits her job and starts to teach immigrants English, only to fall for Russian romantic Vlad, whose partner attacks poor Joy in the staff room when she finds out.
We then meet Allen who is seeing a therapist about his obsession with Helen his neighbour. Helen is one of the Jordan sisters and Allen's therapist is married to the other one, (with us so far?) Allen starts to make dirty phone calls to Helen, but to his amazement Helen actually enjoys them, which just doesn't compute with sad lonely Allen. He has his own problems anyway with his other neighbour, Kristina.
Perhaps the most controversial storyline is concerning the final sister, Trish. As we've said she married to Bill the therapist, but what Trish doesn't know is that Bill is a secret paedophile who secretly drugs his family to take advantage of his son's sleep-over friend. What makes this section even harder to get our heads around is that in every other way Bill is a regular likeable chap, some of the heart to hearts he has with his own son are very tender and sweet, and yet here is a man who represents possibly every parents' worst nightmare.
The film can be laugh out loud funny, sentimental and sometimes quite sickening. There are tender moments and vile moments and even some heartbreaking moments. The performances are to a man absolutely perfect and although I'm not going to single out anyone for special mention all the actors put in totally believable performances and capture you from the first scene onwards.
It's not easy viewing sometimes and there are going to be some viewers who find this to be unwatchable in parts. But that all said it is clever, singular and challenging.
Yes, this movie contains child rape, murder, masturbation, paeodophelia etc. but the film is as masterful as it is because it already assumes the audience knows that these things are bad. This is a rare film that will not preach to your "inner conscience" and respects its' audience.
An connecting tale of family disfunction and sexual inadequacy all joined Short Cuts/ Magnolia/ Pulp Fiction style by one or two events is centrally about three daughters, one a terminally smiling but incredibly unfulfilled social worker (Jane Adams), another an unknowing housewife (Cynthia Stevenson) to a paeodophile and the "succesful" one, a beautiful poet with many sexual conquests but feels emotionally empty (Lara Flynn Boyle) and their parents' (Ben Gazzera and Louise Lasser) breakdown of a thirty-year marriage. The film shows all of these (outwardly) normal people, yet many other detailed and brilliant characters, on their search for fulfilment, love and happiness.
Todd Solondz's incredibly ambitious and emotially shattering third film (see also his last: Welcome to the Dollhouse, almost perfect) is a masterpiece, not only of genius scriptwriting that makes you want to laugh, scream, cry and burn the film all in a single line, but also some of the most beautifully underplayed direction, unlike Sam Mendes' recent Oscar winning helming. The relationships are perfectly portayed with the ending scene between Bill, the paeodophile, and his betrayed son one of the most heart wrenching in cinema history.
The acting is completely perfect. From Jon Lovitz's (yes, Jon Lovitz) initially confusing breakdown at the outset to the now eponymous Phillip Seymour Hoffman's phone sex pervert and Dylan Baker's psychiatrist paeodophile, every one would, in a perfect world, take home Oscars.
Instances in this film may make you want to stop watching and damn the film for filth. Don't. This is one of few masterpieces to come out of America in the last decade. Many will not have the stomach for anything quite so perverse but it simply demands to be seen. Purely unmissable.
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