Movie to Look Out For: Solondz’s “Life During Wartime”

Sure, the movie features a slovenly phone-sex fetishist, an overly sexed Russian cab driver, an obese woman who dismembers her superintendent (and keeps him in her fridge), a cold writer who is a fan of S&M, a father who is a pedophile and various other sexually frustrated and socially inept New Jersey suburbanites — but Todd Solondz’s 1998 film Happiness is a near masterpiece of a film that, to me, never really received the true recognition it deserved. Featuring a stellar cast that included courageous performances from Dylan Baker, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Jane Adams, Lara Flynn Boyle, Cynthia Stevenson, Jon Lovitz among others, Happiness (the title itself just drips with an ominous irony) suggests a dazzling blend of David Lynch and P.T. Anderson — though remains strictly all Solondz. Of course, this film isn’t for everyone (even Universal Pictures bailed on it, calling it morally objectionable, though it took home the international critics prize at Cannes), but it remains a provocative and haunting work of art from one of cinema’s true independent, albeit bleak, artists.

Twelve years later, Solondz treats us to its quasi-sequel in the newly released Life During Wartime. All of the same characters are present, however Solondz has re-cast different actors for all of the roles, which proves to be very intriguing indeed. Ally Sheedy now takes on the part of Helen, the impressive Ciaran Hinds takes on Baker’s pedophile who is newly released from prison, Allison Janney plays the oblivious housewife Trish, Shirley Henderson takes on the role of Joy — and Paul Reubens (yes, that Paul Reubens) plays the ghost of Joy’s ex-boyfriend. The setting shifts from New Jersey to Florida and from what I have read on the movie so far, it is a positively grueling and fascinating watch…just like its predecessor. At last check, Life During Wartime was playing on 6 screens nationwide, though I am sure it will make its way to art-house theatres across the country at some point — and hopefully soon!

I remain exceedingly anxious and excited to see this one — and find out where Solondz has taken all of these fascinating, disturbing and complex characters, twelve years later. Where does he leave them in the end? He doesn’t churn out very many films at all, but when he does, it’s usually worth buying a ticket. After all, he is the filmmaker responsible for the very impressive Welcome to the Dollhouse (1995), and the powerful and brilliant Palindromes (2004) — so I trust that he’ll deliver the goods with this latest effort.

Let me know your thoughts if you’ve already seen Life During Wartime! Or, if you have any thoughts on Happiness, I’d love to read those too!

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2 Responses to Movie to Look Out For: Solondz’s “Life During Wartime”

  1. Aaron Weiss says:

    I saw Happiness when I was very young, probably too young to really enjoy it. I look back on it, and I certainly see the genius. I’m very much looking forward to this film, I love the idea of it being a sequel that is re-casted. And I love the idea of the title as well.

    But I doubt it will appear anywhere near Orlando. Great review, Peter.

    • thanks, Aaron. I hope to do an actual review when I come around to seeing it. Hopefully it will make its way to Long Island in a week or two. I love the recasting idea too..very smart. He is a filmmaker that never really gets his due.

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