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Separated from her incarcerated husband Bill (Hinds), Trish (Janney) is about to be married again. Bill is a pedophile, so Trish couldn't be more excited to have Harvey (Lerner), a "normal" father figure for her two sons. But when Bill is released from prison and the boys finally meet their future stepdad, the family is forced to decide whether to forgive or to forget. Trish's sister, the virginal, angelic Joy (Henderson), is also haunted by ghosts of lovers past. On leave from her degenerate husband, Allen (Williams), and her job at a New Jersey correctional facility, Joy unwittingly leaves behind a trail of shame and exposed secrets wherever she goes. In one of the film's most stylized sequences, the image of Joy walking the dark streets of Miami in her nightgown maintains her innocence against a backdrop of self-affliction and desire. Written by
Life During Wartime is of sorts a sequel to Happiness, but Todd Solondz chose a different cast for his latest film to play the same characters. I have seen Happiness, but don't remember it well enough and going into Wartime was actually unaware it was a continuation of events.
Three sisters, Joy, Helen and Trish are utterly different souls leading utterly different lives. Joy is a little scattered and has just separated from her husband and is visited by the ghost of a former co worker. Trish lives with her two younger kids, one of whom Timmy is preparing for his bar mitzvah. She has started dating again after her husband was jailed for molesting children, but she is unaware he has been released. Trish is a successful screenwriter in Hollywood, but is old and distant towards the rest of her family.
The sisters lives intertwine together and with characters from each others past and all three try and long to find love and happiness and is for the most part very enjoyable. I recall, perhaps vaguely that Solondz' other films are a little hard going and often harsh, yet Wartime feels a little brighter. However there are some uncomfortable moments in it, such as where Trish explains her feelings towards to her new man to her son or Timmy's inquisitive questioning about 'faggots', but moments are few.
Acting across the cast is excellent with a fine performance from Alison Janney as Trish and whilst squeaky voiced Shirley Henderson can often be annoying in this she is almost endearing. It is a dark film and while it never shocks out right, it does venture to the borderline. And while it's not laugh out loud there are some funny moments in it. You don't have to be familiar with Happiness to enjoy this film, even if it's a typical audience divider film, it works well on it's on. Nor do you have to be a Solondz fan to enjoy this, though those that are will relish the film even more.
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