Aviva is thirteen, awkward and sensitive. Her mother Joyce is warm and loving, as is her father, Steve, a regular guy who does have a fierce temper from time to time. The film revolves around her family, friends and neighbors.
Jennifer Jason Leigh,
Stephen Adly Guirgis
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A woman breaks up with her boyfriend, he thinks it's because he's fat. A man is unable to tell her next door neighbor he finds her sexually attractive. An old couple wants to split up, but they don't want to get a divorce. A therapist masturbates to teen magazines. An 11 year old kid is insecure about the fact that he hasn't cum yet. Office workers try to recall the face of a coworker who recently died. A woman is sure she has everything she could ever want. The lives of these individuals intertwine as they go about their lives in their own unique ways, engaging in acts society as a whole might find disturbing in a desperate search for human connection. Written by
I recently saw my first Todd Solondz film, Welcome To The Dollhouse. What a dark ride!
This week it took a couple of evenings for me to get through Happiness. There was a lot to get. Goodness gracious! (As my dear Grandmother might say, who, incidentally, is not a candidate for viewing THIS one!)
I'd read the reviews for Happiness in 1998; I'd had a typically positive Psychic Movie Reviewer moment. This indie sounded unique. I waited for Happiness - sniffle - to appear upon my friendly video store shelves, but saw nada. I imagine that the store probably had like two copies maybe, displayed briefly upon a bottom shelf someplace. I forgot about the existence of this film, until recently. And I recently heard that a certain video chain had allegedly pulled Happiness from its shelves due to customer complaints.
Disturbing yet intriguing, this film pulled me along, the matrix of character interaction becoming increasingly more intricate and strange. Definitely not for all tastes!
The subject of child sexual abuse is handled matter of factly, yet chillingly and effectively. As with the domestic/sexual abuse of women, the problem of child sexual abuse is obviously one that crosses lines of class, social status, and profession. Happiness acknowledges this fact, in the character of family man/psychiatrist Bill Maplewood.
Loneliness, rage, sexual repression/obsession, disintegrating marriages, sadly sophisticated children, relationships built upon artifice, this film has it all. It's Prozac Cinema at its best: try to be on an even keel when pressing 'play'.
Spouses, parents and children seem to be communicating across a void.
After viewing Happiness for the second time, I realized that the entire soundtrack intentionally consisted of melodramatic, and/or ultra perky canned music: a perfectly ironical compliment and contrast in style with the strong, harsh, quirky film scenes.
Presentation: director Solondz sets up the viewer for traditional father/son talk scenes, via mood and pseudo canned music: giving the subject matter and dialogue all the more impact. WHAT did he just say? Ward and Beaver Cleaver never behaved this way.
Got 134 minutes and a desire to see something darkly different? Rent Happiness. Or buy it.
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