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Directed by Todd Solondz
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Life During Wartime
Todd Solondz’s new film “Life During Wartime” is a sequel of sorts to his 1998 film “Happiness,” which was, deliberately and ironically, about a group of the most unhappy people on earth. They were lonely, they were pedophiles, they tried to contact others by making obscene phone calls at random, and so on. “Life During Wartime” sees them, or a version of them, some years later. In fact Solondz has cast totally different actors for the parts, though keeping the same names, and their previous life is not necessarily a match for the earlier film.
What is it that happens? Well, Solondz has moved the action from New Jersey to Miami, and made it more about the three sisters, Joy, Trish and Helen. Joy (Shirley Henderson in a very bad wig, has left her husband (who happens here to be black and who quickly kills himself, though Joy does not know that) and come for comfort to her mother and sisters. Bill, the pedophile psychiatrist from “Happiness” (played here by Ciaran Hinds), has just been let out of prison; his children have been told that he is dead. One of his children, Timmy, is preparing for his Bar Mitzvah, and finally breaks the silence regarding his father. Not that it is therapeutic for him; his mother (Allison Janney) has found love with an older man (Michael Lerner, and those of us who remember him as Louis B. Mayer in the Coen Brothers’ “Barton Fink” will be glad that he has finally been cast as a romantic lead, though not necessarily for long).
And so the film winds on, by turns amusing and terrifying; Todd Solondz is the only filmmaker I know who can do this and pull it off, because his people are both caricatures and unnervingly real. I haven’t yet mentioned Paul Reubens or Charlotte Rampling. Reubens is a ghost and Rampling is an older woman who picks up Hinds at a bar for a one-night stand. Hinds finally has an encounter with his older son at his college dorm room.
I think no one has the ability to convey such lost souls as does Solondz. His films are exquisite tortures (think of “Palindromes”) and yet to me they are essential viewing. “Life During Wartime” is one of the great titles of all time; the lives of his people are torn to shreds, by war both internal and external. What will become of them? We’ll have to see what his next film brings us.