on 14 August 2005
Happiness. What a strange title for a film that is anything but!
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.
on 10 May 2000
This is my favourite film and, if you open your mind just a little bit, you will be greatly rewarded.
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.
on 9 November 2011
Never before has a film addressed "coming of age" quite so literally.
This is a dark, dark comedy: the sort of thing that might emanate from the deepest circle of the hell of Woody Allen's nightmares. The titular happiness, in case you were wondering, is colossally ironic. This is a story of loosely related individuals - more loosely related than you'd expect given most relations are of the blood or marital sort - all of whom are profoundly at odds with themselves and their environment. Much of their collected oddness manifests itself in sexual dysfunction of one sort or another, but of a far deeper and sicker kind than is commonly found in Woody Allen's material. Indeed, by comparison Allen's neuroticism seems positively winsome.
These people are deeply, darkly, fatally neurotic: Phillip Seymour Hoffman, who seems to revel in these kinds of parts, an overweight, greasy, bespectacled misogynist who has unspeakable fantasies, fantasies which he nonetheless brazenly speaks about, to his shrink and to his victims, through inept crank calls. His shrink Bill Maplewood (Dylan Baker) is a paedophile. Maplewood is married to Trish (Cynthia Stevenson) a woman whose hi-tensile smugness betrays a fundamental insecurity about her place in the world. Trish doesn't know of, but we suspect she may fear for, her husband's ghastly proclivities. Trish has two sisters who, in turn, field Allen's crank calls, and seem to enjoy them. The sisters' parents, holed up in a Florida condo, see their Marriage as a loveless contractual bind.
In the middle of it all is a teenaged boy, Timmy (Justin Elvin), Trish and Bill's son, who is fruitlessly willing on the onset of his own puberty, providing his father a running commentary. His father darkly enjoys.
Could the set-up be any more neurotic?
The narrative gradually displaces itself from early focus on Allen towards the Bill, at which point whatever tacky residue of humour the film had retained is jettisoned and we are let into the paedophile's modus operandi. From there, for thirty minutes, Happiness is unrelentingly grim. Relief comes in the form of the travails of the third sister Joy (Jane Adams), a chronically frustrated spinster, who has stumbled into the arms of a Russian taxi driver (Jared Harris), whom we are invited to like for his uncluttered and direct approach to life, but who also turns out to be a monstrous pig.
The film has as its climax a harrowing exchange between Timmy and his father, now exposed as a paedophile, in which Timmy interrogates Bill about his sexual proclivities and his father answers him calmly and directly. It really is a striking sequence, but as with much of the film, it is thoroughly contrived.
These characters are archetypes we recognise as being profoundly American. Had the film been located anywhere else, the screenplay could would have seemed utterly implausible: you just can't imagine Europeans, let alone anyone else, being this self-involved.
Black humour returns at a stroke in the final scene, in a scene which will have you bent over in mirth or nausea depending on your, well, taste for such things. It seems a little bit of a cheap shot, though that's clearly not how Timmy will have felt about it.
on 12 June 2008
A very intelligent and funny movie. It addresses some very human weaknesses in a very uncompromising way. This is one of the rare movies that shows human behaviour without trying to conform to what is socially acceptable. The only thing missing is the narrative by David Attenborough.
on 10 December 2007
This film is indeed marvelous. Todd Solondz combines really absurd situations and embarrassing moments -some of which most of us do encounter in daily life and some we hopefully won't- with serious issues. Thus, this film provides not only a very high degree of entertainment -Solondz' sense for irony is exceptional-, it gives you a critical view on society without judging or condemning or forcing you to think one way or the other. I am genuinely impressed by Happiness and its cast full of great actors.
It is littered with an assortment of characters that seem to have sexual fetishes and perversions of some sort. Solondz explores some dark subjects and you would think this would make the film harsh and difficult to watch, but it holds your attention throughout mainly because of the excellent performances on show, especially from Dylan Baker as a respected doctor who holds a terrible secret, and Philip Seymour Hoffman as an obscene phone-caller. He is so incredibly versatile - he successfully made my skin crawl here. Before I even go further the very first scene is probably the best work John Lovitz has ever done. This movie looks dead on at some of the most awkward and horrific things in American culture, but never ever ever tells you or suggests to you what you should think or feel, the way most films do. John's Speech will blow you away. Jane Adams, who has a calamitous love life and plays the social reject of three dysfunctional sisters, does a wonderful job in role her facial expressions will get you going. My personal favorite was Cynthia Stevenson as one of those typical housewives with 2.5 kids and a carpool. Her character was so obnoxious, superficial and condescending - she clearly did a wonderful job. I was also a huge fan of Camryn Manheim (what a twist!), Lara Flynn Boyle (she gives new meaning to the role of the phony snob), Elizabeth Ashley, and Molly Shannon's cameo which was HYSTERICAL. And the child actors...simply brilliant and such difficult material. The film's most powerful and emotional scene is towards the end when Baker's character has a trying conversation with his son.
I think it is fair to say that anyone watching this film can identify with at LEAST one of the so-called 'sicknesses' of the characters, therefore, it is the look in to the dark recesses of their own minds that makes them so uncomfortable. The world is a messed up place, and we all contribute to that in our own fashion, some more than others, but nevertheless, we all do, because our lives all clash with one another at some point. The best we can do is to face it and deal with it, not act as though we are separate from it! I suppose what I am trying to say is that this work is an important, unflinching look at the REAL reality in this world and, like it or not, it does affect you in one way or another, so you might as well face up to it by identifying with this film!
on 5 February 2013
I honestly never write reviews, although I feel like sharing my opinion about this movie.
First of all, the dvd arrived within 2 days and everything was great. As this movie was a suggestion and as I am a great fan of Philipp Seymour Hoffman, I ordered it without having a further look at the synopsis.
It starts off in a quite deliberating and comical mood, although right from the start one can figure that it is not just another independent movie... I won't spoil the ending, although it was really really hard to watch for me... Do you know that feeling when you see something disgusting or horrible although you actually can't stop staring? Well that's how I felt during the whole 2 1/2 hours... I was torn between yelling at the screen, feeling pity and the most deepest disgust I have ever felt for any movie figure. (I'm talking about the dear father) I believe the striking part about this film is simply that it harshly directs the bitter truth we are all aware off, although we try to ignore and ban it from our society. ( pedophilia)
I think it is a very great movie, although I would never watch it again. I must admit that I react very sensitive to harsh movies, however I am also a film student, so I kind of have seen any kinds of "cruel" movies. Well I thought I did... This movie definitely set new limits to direct, tactile and provocative movies, portraying the brutal reality of different characters, failing the American dream. I was depressed for 2 days after watching this, so please have a drink right beside you when you watch it, you'll need it!
Apart from that, one should definitely see the movie, as the actors are breathtakingly convincing and extravagant. A must-see, but for me personally only once, I never want to feel again, like I did after this movie! But it definitely opens up your eyes.
I can totally understand the very different approaches and meaning to the film, as it is not an easy one to digest... Just watch it and decide for yourself!
Happiness probably starts with the best break up scene in the movies, it’s the kind of thing most people would love to do to the ‘other half’. It’s basically the story of three divergent sisters and the people and relationships going on around them. Slow to get into and very easy to give up on, it takes determination to get through the first half hour or so, but stick with it and you could soon find yourself drawn into this macabre world of the taboo.
Most films are escapist, they’re there simply to entertain. Solondz’ films are not easy to watch and at times are extremely cringe worthy, not the kind you’d want to watch with the kids or grandma [unless you’re as dysfunctional as the films characters] for they make us think about things we don’t want to think about. Happiness deals with paedophilia, masturbation, homosexuality, rape, you name it, it probably has it in there somewhere, poking an irreverent look at middle suburbia and its dualistic standards. Despite the subject matter you could easily be forgiven if you expect this to be pornographic in content, but it isn’t. What it is, is disturbing, it's often sad and there are some very frank discussions between youngsters and parents that you might find unsettling,
The entire film is a bit like a plate of spaghetti. You pick up a strand and it intertwines with others, yet you can follow it to the end. Seemingly random comments early on turn out to be connected to the storyline elsewhere. It’s not a fast film, in fact it’s often quite slow and borders on becoming boring, but somehow you end up watching just to see where it ends up. The film isn’t funny, but does have dark humour in places.
Despite having a huge cast of familiar faces, this film didn’t get to me as much as 'Welcome to the Dollhouse' or 'Palindromes' did. I found this much more commercial in tone. I can’t say it’s a must see, but it does tend to get compulsive as the film progresses.
on 2 February 2016
This film is a very hard watch. To be honest it's a bit like watching a car crash in that parts of it are so grim that you have to watch despite yourself. But the acting is all really top notch, and the different stories weave in and out of each other with seamless transitions. If you want a feel good, happy ending move don't watch this. But if you want to be challenged, both morally and intellectually, you could do a lot worse.
on 27 May 2000
Happiness Review by Minnie Warnings Firstly if you are easily shocked, or do not like American Art House Cinema, then this may not be for you. There are bits in it which even grossed me out. If you are looking for a film which is about, or even allows for happiness in its protagonists, then this is also not the film for you.
As "The DayTrippers" was "Huis Clos" in a a Station Wagon, "Happiness" is Hannah and her twisted sisters, in New Jersey.
The film loosely follows the lives of the three Jordan sisters living in New Jersey. Joy is a nice kind unfocused failure, Trish a smug suburban mother, married to Bill a closet paedophile, and Helen the outwardly beautiful, but inwardly self-obsessed and narcissistic poet.
Basically Joy breaks off her relationship with a sad desperate loser of a workmate, in a restaurant. A great opening scene in which the gentle manner in which the relationship is broken off is brilliantly turned on its head, by the rejected boyfriend. Upset by the fact that this guy later kills himself, Joy quits her job and starts teaching immigrants. She meets a Russian spiv who takes advantage of her.
Her sister the poet is bothered by the sucess of her "superficial"soul searching poetry, and her success with money, work, and sex life. She wonders when someone will like her for herself, not just because she is beautiful and successful. This leads to a semi flirtation with the obscene phone pest played by PSH.
Her sister Trish has an outwardly happy life with a successful psychiatristhusband Bill. Yet there are dark secrets here too. She has no sex life and her husband drugs her and the rest of the family in order to molest the friend of his son.
Dylan Baker is really excellent as the father of the family. His scenes with his son are upsetting, shocking, thought provoking and yet there is a really wierd sense of his pain too. (Please don't take me to task on this, paedophilia is a vile, evil and unforgiveable crime and this character is a really sick bastard Ok ).
Also Brilliant is Phil Seymour Hoffman. His role is that of the boring lonely neighbour of Helen, whonurses a sick obscene facination for her. This sickness takes the form of obscene phonecalls down the Jordans of the phone directory. Helen responds initially but then when he reveals himself to her, is cruelly rejected. He's brilliant, fat, ugly and vile in this role,
He in turn is bothered by his neighbour ,Camryn Mannheim,who has killed? the night porter of their flats. Their relationship based on rejected loneliness are some of the films most poignant sections.
I would really recommend this film but its NOT for everyone.
Parting Comment, You will never kiss your dog, after this film ever again, and thats a good thing too.
on 3 April 2002
The insecure and seemingly pretentious lives of three sisters is the subject of Tod Solondz' daring and confrontational comic drama. The one sister (Lara Flynn Boyle) is a successful novelist, living next door to lonely and dysfunctional neighbour Phillip Seymour Hoffman. He makes sordid phone calls to women and uses the mess as an adhesive for his post cards. Trish Maplewood (Cynthia Maplewood), is a housewife, whose husband, Dylan Baker, hides a sinister and devastating secret: he's a peodophile. Meanwhile the third sister Jane Adams is a depressed, single girl, looking for mr right. Their Mother and Father too (Louise Lasser and Ben Gazzara), are unhappy and look as if they are heading for a divorce. What seems like something that could steer into a series of crass sentiments and hackneyed melodrama is in fact a poignant tale about middle American life. An extraordiany tale that is both brilliantly funny and deeply moving. Solondz handles this picture with an attention to detail. told in a series of seemingly episodic vignettes as he places careful emphasis on almost every character. With Jon Lovitz, Camryn Manheim, Auther Mascarella, Dan Moran, Evan Silverberg, Justin Melvin and Jared Harris