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A movie directed by Todd Solondz

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Happiness - 1998

  • Sep 3, 2008
Pros: solid cast delivery, story line

Cons: none

The Bottom Line:

How did you get to be happiness?
How did you get to find love, real love?"

 ~ Goldfrapp

Totally unlike 13 Conversations ..., I found this movie, Happiness, quite a bit more interesting in their search for happiness. Certainly it was dark in many aspects, but to let that overshadow the entire movie really undermines the story. Again, we have several different players, looking for something that seems to elude a lot of us, happiness. The players in this release have stories that overlap and are connected. It is based mainly on three sisters and how their lives are affected by circumstances.

Joy is on a constant search for someone in her life. We begin the movie with a scene between her and a date, Andy. Joy is basically blowing off their relationship which leads Andy to say several harsh things to her - something that is repeated throughout the movie. Not necessarily the harsh statements but their consequences. Joy was played by Jane Adams who gives a painfully poignant portrayal of one of the lonely souls in the world, living practically in seclusion even though she interacts with others. Her date, at this point, was Andy, played by Jon Lovitz. Although his scenes were few, he gave a very believable performance.

Helen is the mildly successful sister that longs for so much more. Although she has found financial success, she constantly laments about the tragedies she has missed in her life that would make her work more real. Helen, played by Lara Flynn Boyle, seemed shallow and self indulgent. The high point of her life was an obscene telephone call from Allen, a progressively and obscenely phonophile who lives out his fantasies by randomly calling people on the phone and being most foul.

His main obsession is Helen, who happens to be his neighbor. He manages to place a call to her and after explaining in explicit detail what he wants to do to her, he hangs up. Helen, excited and interested in some weird way, *69's him and a rather strange relationship starts, via the phone, between them. All the while, Allen is relating his rantings to his psychiatrist, Bill. Bill has issues of his own to deal with and often wanders into his own thoughts while taking Allen's dollars for this supposed session.

Philip Seymour Hoffman gives a great performance as Allen. He is the most introverted extrovert I've ever seen. As he rambles to the psychiatrist you can almost believe his feelings - not about his sexual prowess but his self effacing attitude. Bill, on the other hand, played by Dylan Baker, is truly the hidden gem in the movie, in a sick and convoluted way. One would never suspect, at first glance, the depth of his depravity.

Finally, we have Trish, the third sister. Trish has it all; beautiful house, children, loving husband. That husband, by the way, is Bill, of psychiatrist fame. What could possibly go wrong in her perfect hemisphere? Trish, played by Cynthia Stevenson, seems to be the glue that holds the entire family together. It is Trish that Joy turns to with her inability to find happiness and Helen turns to when she wants to lament about the tragedies in her life. She is also the go between with their parental units, Mona and Lenny, who are suffering a personal crisis of their own.

Mona & Lenny, played by Louise Lasser and Ben Gazzara, are teetering on the brink of the dissolution of their marriage. Not a complete divorce, just a trial separation. I really enjoyed the interaction between these two characters and the trials they go through as they enter their ‘golden years'.

We must not forget Kristina, the lonely neighbor to Allen and Helen. Kristina, played by Camryn Manheim, has some, shall we say, hidden secrets of her own that are eventually revealed.

The entire movie is about everything but happiness, despite its cheery title. It is a painful look at obsession, loneliness, and deep rooted psychological problems, none of which are that unusual or remarkable. Not to make light of the situations covered in this movie for it does enter some very scary territory. Rather it gives credence to the thought that things aren't always as they appear to others and inside some people are some very hidden demons.

Written and directed by Todd Solondz, we see inside some very honest portrayals of American life today that is both disturbing and compelling. It certainly isn't for everyone and must be viewed with an entirely open mind, overlooking the obviously sexual connotations revealed. It is a film that, though abhorrent in subject matter, is easily identified with because it steps into an Ozzie & Harriet home life and comes out with the Manson family. The characters are all real enough to make a connection to the audience because they are basically so ordinary. Nothing is really shown to make you cringe but certainly implied to make you uncomfortable. It is smart and clean with good dialogue and interaction between all the characters.

Happiness carries an NC-17 rating, running 141 minutes. It was nominated for 22 awards, winning nine.



Suitability For Children: Not suitable for Children of any age

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More Happiness (1998 movie) reviews
review by . July 18, 2011
posted in Movie Hype
**** out of ****     Denied its premiere at the Sundance Film Festival, and the subject of much post-criticism and controversy around the time of its release, you can take one good glance at Todd Solondz's "Happiness" and see what all the goddamn commotion is about. It is amongst one of the most difficult, disturbing films I've seen; and it tackles some of the ickiest and oddest subjects that most films don't care to touch. Let's just say that if you're sensitive to the graphic …
review by . December 10, 2007
This film is indeed marvelous. Todd Solondz combines really absurd situations and embarrassing moments -some of which most of us do encounter in daily life and some we hopefully won't- with serious issues. Thus, this film provides not only a very high degree of entertainment -Solondz' sense for irony is exceptional-, it gives you a critical view on society without judging or condemning or forcing you to think one way or the other. I am genuinely impressed by Happiness and its cast full of great …
review by . March 20, 2003
posted in Movie Hype
Man, this is difficult, difficult movie!! It's packed full of thoroughly unlikeable characters. And they do some awfully uncomfortable things.The actors are all outstanding. Phillip Seymour Hoffman plays a loser (what a stretch!!) who starts making obscene phone calls to his next door neighbor (Lara Flynn Boyle), who enjoys them. What happens when they meet? That's just one sample of the kind of interactions you might see in this movie. It plays a little like MAGNOLIA, but without much of the hopeful …
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About this movie


Building on the darkly comic angst of WELCOME TO THE DOLLHOUSE, Todd Solondz's HAPPINESS conveys suburban desperation and frustration on a larger scale than his previous film. The ensemble cast of characters centers around the lives of three sisters: Joy (Jane Adams), an awkward, naive, and unlucky musician; Helen (Lara Flynn Boyle), a beautiful, self-obsessed writer; and Trish (Cynthia Stevenson), a conservative housewife who is married to Bill (Dylan Baker), a psychiatrist harboring an unhealthy fascination for young boys. Other dysfunctional characters include the sisters' unhappy parents, Lenny and Mona Jordan (Ben Gazzara and Louise Lasser), and the lonely, sex-obsessed Allen (Philip Seymour Hoffman), who lives next to Helen and goes to Bill for therapy. <br> <br> At once both scathingly funny and shockingly bleak, HAPPINESS addresses subjects that most films are afraid to touch, including pedophilia and masturbation. Unapologetic and unflinching, Solondz's film features bold performances from the...
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Director: Todd Solondz
Release Date: 1998
MPAA Rating: Unrated
DVD Release Date: April 27, 1999
Runtime: 2hr 19min
Studio: Lions Gate
First to Review

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