Tuesday, June 4, 2013

930. HAPPINESS (1998)

Running Time: 139 minutes
Directed By: Todd Solondz
Written By: Todd Solondz
Main Cast: Jane Adams, Lara Flynn Boyle, Cynthia Stevenson, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Dylan Baker
Click here to view the trailer


For the curious, the movies that have been/will be held over from the "Final 15" post are: "The Ghost and Mrs. Muir", "The Treasure of the Sierra Madre" and "Beauty and the Beast". These three movies will be early views at the start of next season, which I'll probably get going on in August or September. The final two movies this season (after "Happiness") will be: "Open Your Eyes" and "Taste of Cherry". Now then...

Let's see...where to begin, where to begin. "Happiness" actually follows several different storylines, but all of the characters are in some way connected to three sisters: Joy Jordan (Adams), Helen Jordan (Boyle) and Trish Maplewood (Stevenson). Joy Jordan is the baby of the three siblings and is having a bit of a hiccup in her life. Her love life is in shambles and her job opportunities are limited. Joy finds herself crying on a regular basis, trying to cope with the hand she's been dealt. In order to find more fulfillment in her life, Joy takes a job teaching adult immigrants English, where she's a scab teacher (the former teacher is on strike) and begins dating one of her students, Vlad - a Russian. Meanwhile, Helen's life is perhaps too exciting - a sex writer who has constant appointments, lunch dates, dinner dates and appearances to schedule. She can have any man she wants, but the one man that she doesn't want, who wants her, is her neighbor, Allen (Hoffman). Allen is a lonely guy, who gets off by calling women on the phone and sometimes talking dirty to them. When he begins calling Helen anonymously, Helen becomes excited by him and requests to meet him. Then there's Trish Jordan, who has a seemingly perfect life. A white picket fence, a psychiatrist husband, two sons, PTA meetings and family meals. What she doesn't know is that her husband Bill (Baker) is sexually attracted to little boys and has even gone so far as to rape two of his sons schoolmates. Throughout the film, his son Billy questions his father on the birds and the bees, which leads to some very candid and straightforward discussion.


Whenever I'm not 100% sure, I have ways of telling whether or not I liked a particular movie. If I find myself on IMDB following the watching of said movie, reading message board posts and seeing what others had to say about it, that's a good sign. If I find myself retelling the plot, in detail, to my wife, that's also a good sign. Both of these signs were fulfilled following the watching of "Happiness" and after going through an entire day not really knowing whether to accept or reject this film (I watched it last night), I think I've finally decided. I think it's a really great movie, despite some really appalling and disgusting subject matter. You see, that's not really easy for me to admit because I'd seen "Happiness" once before and in fact, I used to own "Happiness" on DVD (a blind buy purely because Philip Seymour Hoffman was a part of the cast - I used to love that guy...still do). It sat on my DVD shelf for years and when I finally broke down and gave it a watch, I hated it. I'm pretty sure I didn't waste any time selling it away and figured I'd never watch it again. Well, apparently I didn't know about THE BOOK then and when THE BOOK came along, I realized I'd have to give it one more go around. I think that pretty much brings us up to speed on where I stand with this movie. This time, I had absolutely no problem sitting through this over two hour movie, which felt more like forty-five minutes. Solondz used his time very wisely and didn't take a second of his film for granted, cramming in something essential during every scene.

It's a controversial piece, there's no denying that. It's a film that will certainly leave your casual movie goer with a dropped jaw and probably turn off a lot of people. I won't deny that there were times during the picture where I felt dirty and disgusting for even watching it and even more so, for enjoying it. Certainly I'm, for the most part, talking about the storyline involving Dylan Baker. However, the film (in a way) redeems itself for giving us a few happy moments, moments of closure and letting us know that, at least these characters recognize their wrongdoing, which is more than we get in real life sometimes. The short scene where Bill Maplewood turns to his half sleeping wife, in bed and tells her that "he's sick", not referring to a virus he may have picked up, but rather that he's sick for being a pedophile. He's sobbing at the time and really, I thought that was a brilliant inclusion and I wonder what I would've thought of that storyline if that scene had been omitted. There's another nice scene where Allen finally realizes that the girls he calls on the phone and more notably Helen, are never going to accept him or find him appealing and that his other neighbor, Kristina will. So he goes to her apartment and lies down with her; Allen on top of the blankets, she underneath. It's a nod to the fact that neither of them really like the physical act of sex. Allen gets off on being distanced from his objects of desire (his penchant for using the phone) and Kristina has been raped, so neither will she find sex an appealing activity. They're perfect for each other - awkward and perfect.

So as much as people want to condemn Todd Solondz for making "Happiness", I'd rather applaud him. Why? Because these sorts of people do exist. Who knows what goes on when people lock their doors and pull their curtains at night. People have all sorts of perversions and turn ons, whether you're a doctor, living in the 'burbs or a regular guy, living in an apartment. Some of our turn ons are fairly run of the mill, but behind a lot of locked doors there are a real sickos: pedophiles, rapists and the like; and then there's guy's like Allen, a little odd, but for the most part, harmless. So thank you Todd Solondz for not shying away from this sort of subject matter and facing it and even more so for being able to find a little humor in it and even more so for adding those few classy touches, in a film that really has no place being classy. For people who say they don't like this movie, but secretly do, I understand. For people who say they don't like this movie and mean it, I don't understand. I'll certainly NEVER bash anyone's personal opinion, but I do apologize if you're offended by "Happiness". I apologize if every film can't be roses & puppy dogs and I apologize that as long as there are directors like Todd Solondz, there will be filmmakers who aren't afraid to grab reality by the horns and show us what's really going on.

RATING: 8/10  See, I have a hard time accepting movies that I once held such a passionate dislike for, so that explains the '8' and explains why this film MAY not make the TOP 20 list...but it probably will.


June 4, 2013  6:15pm

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