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158 out of 194 people found the following review useful:
Polarizing, 10 September 2004
Author: drosse67 from Virginia
There are only a handful of films that have a distinct polarizing
affect on the audience--A Clockwork Orange, The Cook, the Thief, His
Wife & Her Lover, and I would even lump in American Beauty--these are
movies you either get, or you don't. And if you don't get it, you will
hate it. Open minded viewers need only apply, and that's certainly the
case with "Happiness." I remember leaving the theater absolutely
shocked, and not just because of the events on screen. I was shocked
that I found the movie so intelligent and oddly entertaining. The
actors surely must have felt that, after reading the screenplay. And
there are some big actors in this--veterans like Ben Gazzara, Louise
Lasser, Elizabeth Ashley, mixing with new talent like Philip Seymour
Hoffman, Camryn Manheim, Dylan Baker, Lara Flynn Boyle, etc.
The subject matter is truly unsettling--a parental figure, respected in his community, does some horrible things, and this is the main reason why so many people have a hard time with this movie. Did this material really need to be examined in modern cinema? Well, yes--in the same way that David Lynch had to explore it in Blue Velvet. Happiness is a masterpiece of irony (even in the title), and finds humor in the most unusual and downright bizarre circumstances. You will not see another movie like it. Guaranteed. And fair warning--you could very well despise it. And it's probably a fair estimate that its writer/director, Todd Solondz, doesn't give a damn.
121 out of 147 people found the following review useful:
A brilliant movie, but not for everyone., 15 March 2000
Author: (firstname.lastname@example.org) from San Diego
This is one of the best movies I've ever seen, but I would hesitate to recommend it to people whom I don't know pretty well. It explores aspects of life and living (and suffering) that most films avoid or actively deny. And it does so brilliantly. The characters are vividly real, and there is such a strong sense of situations unfolding in real time that it's truly mesmerising. I felt like a fly on the wall, eavesdropping on conversations I could never hear otherwise. I think many people would absolutely hate this movie, partly because it doesn't pass judgement on behaviours that are repulsive to the bulk of humanity, and partly because it exposes us to them at all.
86 out of 104 people found the following review useful:
One of the year's best films--but be prepared for some very disturbing material. **** (out of four), 18 August 2001
Author: Blake French (email@example.com) from USA
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
HAPPINESS / (1998) **** (out of four)
Todd Solondz, writer and director of "Happiness," describes his perplexing film as "a series of intertwining love stories, stories of connections missed and made between people, how people always struggle to make a connection, and to what degree they succeed or don't." It's about relationships, obsessions, and stunning discoveries both private and social. It contains some very graphic material-enough that the filmmakers released it without an MPAA rating. Even as the film exploits extreme adult themes and graphic content, it does not glamorize or stylize its subjects. Rather, it uses them to paint a disturbing picture of the dark side of human nature.
The film connects with the audience because these characters feel real-they are ordinary people with serious problems. It takes place in a homely suburbia environment in which Solondz draws us in, and eventually pushes us far away with enough provocative content to stand next to "A Clockwork Orange." The movie does, however, know what to show on screen and what not to. It's smart, and indecisive, not dirty and gratuitous. The film defines the character's relationships very well. "Happiness" doesn't explore random, unrelated characters. Their separate lives do, however, connect, and the movie does a great job revealing those connections.
"Happiness" follows a complicated story woven through the lives of many characters. Joy Jordan (Jane Adams), a middle-aged telephone sales person living by herself in New Jersey, longs for a decent relationship after recently breaking up with her boyfriend (Jon Lovitz). Her parents, Mona (Louise Lasser), and Lenny (Ben Gazzara), are pending a divorce through their catalyst neighbor (Elizabeth Ashley). Joy has two sisters: Trish (Cynthia Stevenson), and Helen (Lara Flynn Boyle). Helen brags about how many men lust for her, while Trish is a chripy homemaker married to a therapist named Bill (Dylan Baker). Bill appears to be a typical husband and father, but he is really a homosexual pedofile who masturbates over teen idol magazines and molests the friends of his preteen son, Billy (Rufus Reed). Bill, however, has done a good job at hiding his disturbing feelings from his friends and family.
Billy confronts his father about his developing sexuality, while Bill is also riddled with sex discussions as one of his patients, Allen (Philip Seymour Hoffman) obsessively raves about having sex with Helen. They meet one day when Allen makes one of his usual obscene phone calls, and Helen enjoys his heavy breathing and wants to make love with Allen. A large woman (Camryn Manheim) who lives in the same apartment complex as Allen often knocks at his door. She likes Allen, but he is too busy shuffling through porno magazines and making explicit phone calls to random women to notice those feelings.
In the production notes, producer Ted Hope describes Todd Solondz's vision as "comedic tragedy. Todd knows how to maintain that fine balance between heartbreak and humor. You're often unsure whether to laugh or cry." The dialogue, always riveting and thought-provoking, sometimes shocking with its irony and explicitness, often perplexes us; we are not quite sure how to respond to such phrases.
Take a scene where Bill exchanges a conversation with the coach of his son's baseball team we're not sure whether to laugh or weep-we feel a little humor and sadness mixed. The coach is concerned of his own son's sexual status-he is afraid his kid is homosexual. Here's what their conversation involves:
Coach: What do you think would happen if I got him a professional... you know... Bill: A professional? Coach: Hooker. You know, the kind that can teach things... first-timers, you know... break him in. Bill: But Joe, he's 11. Coach: You're right, you're right. It's too late.
Ironic how I screened Neil Lebute's sexually provocative "Your Friends & Neighbors," just days after this astonishing production. Both movies honestly examine deep human despair in disturbing, frank detail. I remember the dialogue in both films. A specific scene in "Happiness" where Billy asks his father some very difficult questions about molestation. His father answers his son honestly, no matter how difficult the questions got.
I compare that scene to the scene in "Your Friend's & Neighbors" where three men relax in a steam room, and the character played by Jason Patrick verbally remembers his best sexual experience. These sequences require numerous viewing. They stare into the deep, dark crevices of the heart, and we can only watch in bafflement at the thought-provoking power these movies have and how they challenge our perspectives. "Happiness" is one of the better films of the year.
72 out of 81 people found the following review useful:
Transfixed, mortified, amused, devastated, 22 June 2000
Author: johnpil from Southern California
Gradually, as I watched this movie, I became aware that I was witnessing some of the most powerful and honest acting, writing, and directing I had ever experienced. And I'm glad, because if this material had been attempted by anyone without extreme skill and sensitivity, it would have been a monstrous disaster. As it is, I don't think I would add it to my DVD collection. I don't know if I could watch it again, and I'm not sure I'd feel comfortable people seeing it on my shelf unless they knew me well. There are moments of great hope in this movie, when you think misery may finally give way to happiness. There are moments of great honesty, when a character says just what you'd expect them to say, and you realize how "safe" every other movie character has been in comparison. The humor that other reviews talk about is not the kind of humor that makes me laugh, personally. It's the dark, visceral humor of human weakness, meanness and even pathology. I still appreciate it for what it is, and it is used in a profound and delicate way. I highly recommend this movie to anyone who is willing to accept that life, and especially sexual life, is really much more complex and difficult than we usually admit. I recommend watching it alone, or with a friend or partner with whom you can discuss the most emotionally difficult topics. This movie will test you if you stick with it, but you'll know you saw something profound.
73 out of 89 people found the following review useful:
Solondz is one of the best American directors working today. Period., 8 April 2002
Author: capkronos (firstname.lastname@example.org) from Ohio, USA
I don't want to waste time analyzing the plot since others have covered
it so well... Basically here we have a Robert Altman-esqe pastiche of
characters stemming from a seemingly normal family, plus others who
come into their lives. Solondz sets them up and examines their lives,
their dreams, their interactions and their facades. What's important is
that he doesn't JUDGE these people. And even more importantly, he
doesn't condescend to his audience. Like it or not, the people in this
movie do exist and I think viewers instantly realize that.
This movie stirs up such strange emotions. It's tough to admit that we may have something in common with a Suburban pedophile, a pathetic dreamer, a pretentious literary snob or a obscene telephone sex stalker and one of the most frightening ideas ever put on film is here: Solondz makes plausible the people we view as being "sick" or generally look down upon aren't that much different than us. They still want the same things we do. And he also questions the ideals America seems to hold most dear, like monogamy and morality. And yeah, happiness. How exactly DO you find happiness? Is ANYONE really happy?
I cannot recommend HAPPINESS enough (neither can I with the director's equally impressive and incisive WELCOME TO THE DOLLHOUSE). It's just an extraordinary movie; surprisingly funny, intelligent, brutally honest, powerful, original and relevant. The cast is thoroughly excellent and Solondz follows his own compass at all times in both the scripting and directing department. He's a brave filmmaker and I really have a lot of admiration for directors and writers who stray away from the tired Hollywood blockbuster formula. Good for some popcorn, sure, but aren't you glad there's other stuff out there to choose from?
Reading some of the other reviews posted here I was surprised at the amount of negative comments. I guess this isn't for everyone out there. If you want a fun night of fantasy escapism or a brainless comedy, don't bother. But if you want a blisteringly funny dose of reality, then don't miss this! Definitely a top contender for My 10 Favorite Movies of the 1990s list.
71 out of 90 people found the following review useful:
A compelling watch, which will both amuse and seriously disturb, 3 April 2001
Author: neal (email@example.com) from lancashire England
Happiness - which centres around the lives of three sisters - Joy who's
permanently unlucky in love, Helen a successful poet whose next door
neighbour is obsessed with her and phones to explain this in graphic
and finally there's Trish who has it all, a big house, a couple of kids
a successful psychiatrist husband who himself harbours uncontrollable
The sisters are all somewhat fractured of mind - for example Lara Flyn Boyle's character plays an author suffering writers block bemoaning the fact that she wasn't abused as a child that could lend her work some authenticity - so she's delighted when she gets an obscene phone from a one of the many fat ugly sex obsessed dysfunctioning American neurotics that seem to be this seasons slim sexy movie star successes. Happiness manages to be truly provocative and also madly comical at one and the same time... for instance I never thought I could feel sympathy for a paedophile or a bloke making obscene phone calls but with tact and courage Happiness confronts these modern folk devils.
Happiness is anything but; as the characters lives intertwine in the search for happiness they find only loneliness, obsession and some serious psychological problems. In particular the psychiatrists story is remarkable with performances second to none as he tries to explain to his son about his paedophile tendencies.
Happiness explodes some of the fear related misconceptions showing that repression is the oppression of our generation... as if an open mind is just that. Open and willing for some perverted notion to crawl right in...
Directed by Todd Solondz Happiness is a slice of American life that isn't normally dealt with this honesty, making it a compelling watch, which will both amuse and seriously disturb for its two hours and fifteen minutes running time. Happiness is a must see.
42 out of 52 people found the following review useful:
Prozac Cinema, 2 May 2001
Author: A. F. Waddell from United States
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.
35 out of 39 people found the following review useful:
An oft-misunderstood film about quiet desperation, 18 August 2001
Author: evilmatt-3 from Woodland Hills, CA
I wasn't going to write a comment for this one, but after reading all the
nasty things said about it, and considering that _Happiness_ was the basis
for one of my final undergraduate philosophy papers, I feel a duty to defend
First of all, what you've heard is true: this movie is very graphic and almost impossible to sit through without covering your eyes at least once. However, it is worth noting that the most uncomfortable scenes are uncomfortable precisely because of an empathy that the audience establishes with the characters; it is that precisely that empathy which often pulls the audience in a direction opposite from social mores that makes us squirm. I don't know how many of the other critics here are schooled in film theory, but that kind of powerful emotional effect is typically considered a GOOD THING in films. So, really, what most people object to about this film is the content, regardless of what they want other to believe.
That said, this really is a wonderful film precisely because of the level of human understanding, empathy, and reality it encompasses. It portrays human nature from the inside out, where it is least dignified and most pathetic. What we see are a number of people desperately scrabbling around for fulfillment, because they have all to some degree achieved the fulfillment of their desires and found it hollow. Since they don't realize this fact themselves (most people don't), they look for that fulfillment they feel entitled to by using other people. It is this fundamental destructiveness of human desire (written about masterfully by Zizek) which causes the "evils" in this film.
I put "evils" in quotes because, as Solondz's film masterfully demonstrates, there is no evil to be found in this film; there is only humanity and suffering. This absence of moral judgment, though disquieting, is what allows the spectacular sense of empathy and full moral complexity of this film.
Thus, the moral of the film is that the surest way of destroying happiness is to seek it. And that, I feel, is a message that not only makes this a great film but also an artwork of tremendous social value.
30 out of 33 people found the following review useful:
Well drawn and depressing a difficult watch but a worthwhile one, 16 November 2003
Author: bob the moo
Centred around a New Jersey based family of three sisters, their parents and
their partners and acquaintances, this film looks at their lives. Involving
a lonely sister, a sister with a good family life, a paedophile, a telephone
sex pest and an elderly couple breaking up, the film follows their short
stories through whatever it takes them.
I remember hearing this film reviewed as being pretty good, but it was pointed out by the critic that it was far from a movie to take a first date to! Seeing it now for the first time he was very right, in fact I would say it is the type of film that could make a partner worry about you if you suggest you watch it together. What type of audience this was made for is questionable but it is not without merit even if it is very, very bleak. The actual `plot' is no more than a collection of stories that roughly overlap due to the character's relationships to one another. Most of these work well enough and are interesting, but the odd one falls slightly flat Allen's overweight flatmate goes a little too far and the Russian thief subplot is not really engaging.
However for most of the film the stories are very engrossing despite being very sad. The plot assumes unhappiness of one form or another to be a given as part of life, and I think that that is a pretty fair assumption. Some of the characters bring it on themselves, some of them are simply alone however all the scope of human misery is here even if it takes the form of events that not everyone will be able to relate to. No matter whether or not you like the characters you will feel for them they are very well written and the dialogue feels natural. While the paedophile character will turn many stomachs, I did respect the film for not monsterising him.
Baker plays him very well, and mixes it with all the hallmarks of a `normal' guy. His chats with his son form a strand that runs through the film well and is ultimately quite moving and hard to watch. Hoffman and Boyle don't really have a great deal to do and their characters were harder for me to buy into, as their relationship was not clear. All the cast do a good job regardless mainly because the characters are very well written and fit together in a great ensemble presentation. Special mention should go to Lovitz for a great little cameo that opens the film in 4 minutes he gives a better performance than I have seen him give anywhere else.
Overall this film is not an easy, fun film to watch but it is very well written even if some of the threads do not engage as much as the others. The conclusion of the film offers no respite and only sees a collection of characters hurt by themselves or others who have little hope for the future other than to just keep plodding on. Like it or not the message of the film is powerful even if the presentation doesn't do anything to make it accessible. When REM close the credits singing `happiness where are you? I've searched so long for you' it is difficult not to feel something.
36 out of 45 people found the following review useful:
Dark brilliance, 18 March 2005
Author: FilmOtaku (firstname.lastname@example.org) from Milwaukee, WI
When a film opens with a scene between two people, one breaking up with
the other, culminating in the dumped calling the dumper "Shit", you
know you're in for something dark with this film. When the scene is
followed by the simple opening title "Happiness" written in pretty
cursive writing, you know it's going to be ironic as well. "Happiness"
was written and directed by Todd Solondz, the mind behind the film
"Welcome to the Dollhouse", a film that was fantastic but really hard
to watch if the viewer has any kind of heart. "Happiness" follows in
the same vein, though this time, instead of centering around one
character, Solondz puts a New Jersey family at the center of the film
and develops new characters through their relationship with the family.
Overseeing the family is Mona Jordan (Lasser), the matriarch of the family who has just been told by her husband that he no longer loves her. Lenny Jordan (Gazzara) is simply sick of being tied to someone continuously, while insisting that there is "no one else". Joy Jordan (Adams) is a serially employed thirty-something single female who is constantly belittled by her family and ignored by society. She is most close to her sister Trish Maplewood (Stevenson), a stay at home mother with three kids who likes to say she "has it all". Her husband Bill (Baker) is a psychiatrist who outwardly appears to be a stoic family man, but is actually a pedophile who, within five minutes of the introduction of his character, goes to a convenience store to pick up a teen heartthrob magazine so he can masturbate in the back seat of his car to the pictures of the young boys on the cover. The third sister in the family is Helen Jordan (Boyle), an author recently made semi-famous for an angst-ridden published diary (filled with lies) who has a very high opinion of herself and a way of making others feel badly about themselves while never raising her smooth-as-glass voice or making her jabs obvious. Her neighbor Allen (Hoffman) is in love with her, only he is so inept at socialization and unable to approach her that he attempts to satisfy his desires by first making random obscene phone calls to various women, and then making Helen a target herself. Another neighbor, Kristina (Manheim) is an insecure, quiet woman who is constantly trying to befriend Allen, possibly as a love interest.
There is quite a cast of characters to this ensemble picture, and the story lines become intricate and increasingly more complicated as the film progresses. "Happiness" is filled with excellent character actors (at the top of the list would certainly be Hoffman) but the most compelling character and character portrayal would be Baker's character of Bill Maplewood. Obviously, a film that deals unflinchingly with pedophilia and child rape, particularly under the guise of a "dark comedy" is going to be held under closer observation, but even under this scrutiny, Baker's portrayal is absolutely flawless. While his character is a monster, Baker is able to provide a human side to it, where I was left thinking he was a terrible man, but also had sympathy for him because he had a sickness. There are not many actors I can think of that could pull off this role as stupendously as Baker did. Baker was the clear star of the film in my opinion, but the performances of every person in the cast were fantastic as well, particularly the young boy who played Baker's oldest son.
As I stated earlier, "Happiness" is rife with irony because on the surface, everyone is miserable. However, it soon becomes relatively clear that this is just how these people are, and each of them to some extent ARE living in happiness, as misguided as it may appear to be. Everyone ends up being hurt or disappointed on some level, but they are still together and seem to be satisfied to be in the destructively emotional rut they are in. Solondz, who really has his finger on the pulse of misery, (Just like when, upon hearing that Stephen King gets inspiration for his books from his dreams I was glad that he at least makes millions from being terrified at night, I would hate to get a front row seat in Solondz's psyche) really gives the audience something to chew with "Happiness". I loved the chances he took with the subject matter, I loved the performances, and I loved the film as a whole because it was just so damn well done. It's not an easy film to watch, and it's not an entirely pleasant one to watch at times, but it is truly a piece of genius with the way it is intricately put together; envision trying to glue tiny shards of crystal into place with a tweezers the characters in "Happiness" are as fragile and ready to shatter at any moment, whether they can see it for themselves or not. 8/10 --Shelly
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