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Happiness (1998)

Cast: Jane Adams, Jane Adams, Dylan Baker, more...
Director: Todd Solondz, Todd Solondz
    see all cast/crew...
Rating: Not Rated
Studio: Lions Gate
Genre: Independent, Black Comedy, Dysfunctional Families
Running Time: 139 min.
Languages: English
Subtitles: English, Spanish, French
    see additional details...

After his 1995 breakthrough, Welcome to the Dollhouse, director Todd Solondz was courted by a number of studios to make a big-budget film with top stars. Instead, he chose to make this aggressively dark comedy-drama of perversions and twisted lives. Andy Kornbluth (Jon Lovitz) explodes with anger after rejection in a restaurant from Joy Jordan (Jane Adams), one of a trio of middle-class New Jersey sisters. Joy's sister Trish (Cynthia Stevenson), a housewife with three kids, is married to psychiatrist Bill (Dylan Baker), who counsels the lonely, overweight Allen (Philip Seymour Hoffman). Allen is obsessed with Joy's other sister, the successful poet Helen (Lara Flynn Boyle), all the while ignoring the attentions of his seemingly sweet yet overweight neighbor Kristina (Camryn Manheim). Bill has fantasies of turning an assault rifle on families in a park, masturbates to teen magazine photos, and develops an unhealthy interest in a classmate of his 11-year-old son, Billy (Rufus Read). After a telephone sales job, Joy moves on to substitute teach at an adult education class, where she falls prey to the advances of an insensitive cabdriver, Vlad (Jared Harris). Allen's series of obscene phone calls to Helen come to an end when she challenges him to come next door and carry out his sexual threats. Meanwhile, the sisters' parents, Lenny and Mona Jordan (Ben Gazzara and Louise Lasser), find their marriage collapsing after 40 years. Lenny has sparked the interest of divorcée Diane Freed (Elizabeth Ashley), but he actually would prefer to be alone. The path to happiness, it seems, is littered with dreams, despair, and abnormalities. Winner of the International Critics' prize at the 1998 Cannes Film Festival, Happiness met with much controversy both in pre-production and upon its release, as chronicled in producer Christine Vachon's book Shooting to Kill. ~ Bhob Stewart, All Movie Guide

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Short Cuts
Robert Altman's interpretation of Raymond Carver boasted an incredible ensemble cast

Solondz' intriguing follow up film was no less caustic or bleak; story told in two parts also features good ensemble cast

Paul Thomas Anderson's more ambitious and showy (and Biblical) film also observes lonely and frustrated people dealing with a chaotic world

GreenCine Member Reviews

Dark satirical look at humans by MrEricSir March 14, 2005 - 9:46 PM PST
4 out of 6 members found this review helpful
Now that I've seen Happiness, when I read reviews of the film I'm always disappointed. Critics typically go on about the acting, the subject matter, the true-to-life suffering... but seem to ignore a basic fact -- this film is hilarious!

It could be most folks don't share my sense of humor, and that's fine. However, if you enjoy dark (yet realistic) comedies and shocking films which stomp down one taboo after the next, rent this film immediately. Trust me.

I should mention I haven't seen any of Solondz's other films, but I hear this one's his best and I don't doubt it. I don't think he could top this one.

Painful Pleasure by sfspaz January 13, 2004 - 3:06 PM PST
4 out of 4 members found this review helpful
It is easy, yet foolish, to write this movie off as "sensationalist", as many did. While my first viewing led me to this conclusion, subsequent viewings revealed a movie so rich in emotional subject matter and so unblinking in its desire to reveal the secrets we work to avoid that one is hard pressed not to regard it as a tour de force.

The acting is breathtakingly vivid and deft - from Lara Flynn Boyle as the bored and self-absorbed beauty to Jane Adams' futilely optimistic loser sister, Dylan Baker's tortured father with pedophiliac leanings to Phillip Seymour Hoffman's agonized but loveable masturbating oaf, the performances are first-rate.

The subject matter, as many have mentioned, is enough to make the most hardened urbanite squirm, but Solondz navigates the viewer through such scenes slowly and gingerly, exposing his motivation as contemplation of these painful issues, not exploitation of them. Beyond this, Solondz has a way of frosting his most painful moments with a humor which, albeit incredibly dark, ameliorates somewhat his brutal subject matter.

Not to be miseed, and not to be viewed only once.

Altmanesque Miracles by dwhudson September 1, 2002 - 1:23 PM PDT
19 out of 20 members found this review helpful
If Robert Altman's cultural make-up hadn't been pretty much made up in the 60s (both pre- and post-hippie), if he'd been born and raised in an age of air-quoted irony instead, proud to wear an overtly conspicuous nerdiness on his sleeve, when the mid-to-late 90s came along, he'd probably have made movies something along the lines of Todd Solondz's Happiness, Paul Thomas Anderson's Magnolia or Wes Anderson's The Royal Tenenbaums. Except that he might not have, since the real Robert Altman wouldn't have preceded him.

Consciously or not, each of those three filmmakers seems to have decided at some point to an Altman movie. Almost like a rite of passage. A fiercely independent, personal Altman movie, to be sure, but remarkably similar in structure and theme. You've got the cast, which people tend to think of as an ensemble, though you rarely have more than two or three members of it acting in the same room at any given time. You've got the pace of one scene setting the tone for the next. And you've got your running motifs: social and familial dysfunctionality (though interestingly, all three of our younger directors make a point of including incest in the catalog of dysfunctions and I can't recall it coming up with Altman offhand), but above all, deep, gaping, tangibly painful loneliness.

Of the post-Altman three -- Happiness, Magnolia and The Royal Tenenbaums, all of which I personally like loads, even though the intentional, look-at-me eccentricity all around can be grating -- Happiness, IMHO, is the most accomplished. Magnolia is thrilled with its own movieness (not a bad thing!), the camera swirling and seemingly never settling down, the musical number, the frogs and so on; The Royal Tenenbaums is a stylized fairy tale (also not a bad thing!) with its saturated colors and brothers sailing around and around the world and so on.

Happiness is the most rooted in reality, and what a stark, gruesome reality it is. I don't think I am ever going to forget looking into Dylan Baker's hauntingly innocent face, shot through as it is with denial and demonic intentions, all at the same time. The isolated, out of shape and just out of it computer guy could have been such a dull cliché if Philip Seymour Hoffman hadn't bared the underbelly you didn't even know was there. I could go on. The cast is astounding. Hell, the casting is astounding (Louise Lasser!). And Todd Solondz has worked miracles, all the more miraculous because they come off so frank and unmiraculous.

GreenCine Member Rating

(Average 7.26)
685 Votes
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