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Happiness (1998)

A darker sense of comedy, I have never seen...

Genre: Drama Comedy

Starring: Philip Seymour Hoffman (Capote; Boogie Nights), Lara Flynn Boyle ("Huff"; Red Rock West)

Directed By: Todd Solondz (Welcome to the Dollhouse; Storytelling)

Overview: This is the story of a New Jersey family, three sisters, their parents and neighbours, each coping - ever so difficultly - with their pursuits of happiness.


Joy Jordan (Jane Adams) is an unhappy lady living life. We kick off the film with a lovely exchange where she's dumping Andy (Jon Lovitz). Joy's sister Trish Maplewood (Cynthia Stevenson) is relatively happy with two kids and a dog, but her psychiatrist husband is very, very... off. Bad. Wrong... and will probably be one of your favorite characters too. The third sister, Helen (Lara Flynn Boyle), is a very successful writer, but hates life, whereas her next door neighbour (the already well-established Philip Seymour Hoffman) is a freak weirdo, but perhaps not as much of a freak as another neighbour Kristina ("The Practice"'s Camryn Manheim). Then there's the Florida-living old folk parents who just don't love each other anymore... It's complicated, and that's why it's so awesome. Todd Solonz may not have much under his belt, but this is certainly one of the one's he's proud of. The only reason this doesn't get tops is how Rufus Read's acting seemed all too forced as son Billy Maplewood.
Rating: 9


The shooting style, besides being a standard professional, non-distracting format that captures the storytelling well, has little stabs of rich vibrant greens, symbolic of nature's perfection and beautiful weather, yet always juxtaposed with a very bad thing, whether a golf green where someone just had a heart attack or a bright sunny park, the location of a dreamed mass shooting rampage, it's a very nice message about suburbia.... oh my God the Floridian pastels! It's priceless.
Rating: 8


You think I don't appreciate art. You think I don't understand fashion. You think I'm not hip. You think I'm pathetic. A nerd. A lard-ass fatso. You think I'm shit... Well, you're wrong, 'cause I'm champagne, and YOU'RE the one who's shit... until the day you die, you, not me, will always be shit. - Pretty much the last thing you want to hear after dumping someone... sweet first scene Jon Lovitz.

Add to the above that this film also has the best last line ever from any movie I can think of, well that's worth points. This is the kind of film whose script is awkward, how everything that's said is either a lead up to foot-in-mouth syndrome, or the reaction to a previously stated faux pas. When it's merely an explanation of feeling or facts, it goes is the most stomach turning place imaginable. 
Rating: 9


This isn't the kind of story with a plot like saving the world or hitting it rich, it's real drama.  Moments in despair, while feigning a grin telling people you're fine while the world crashes in around you.  And the subtext is totally clear once you see a picture of Todd Solondz.  It's like he's the champion of the world's dorks, and on top of everything he can laugh at people, at himself, but in that really, really hurt way that makes you squirm so good. Boiled right down to it, the character dynamic is very reminiscent of Magnolia, one of those 'everyone is somehow interconnected' tales.    
Rating: 8


A depressing comedy.  That's the best way to put it.  A heavy streak of the Welcome to the Dollhouse he's known for.  Add the fact that there's three ejaculation scenes and, well, you already have an idea of the strange oddity this is. A story in which ordinary suburban life freaks you right out. It's All about the characters.
Rating: 8

What a NICE MAN! Driving Johnny Grasso like that... urgh
What a NICE MAN! Driving Johnny Grasso like that... urgh
Overall Rating: 84% (Oh, Joy)

I considered Happiness as a pick for my Caution films list.  When a bleak guy like me considered any film for a special "you might REALLY not want to watch this for a good time" list, that says a thing or two about the kind of film you're diving into. I can tell you this much though: I've seen this five or more times, and only on one occasion did the guests look at me like I was crazy. Pretty good track record.

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