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Life During Wartime (2010)

A movie directed by Todd Solondz

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Suffers in comparison to "Happiness", but stands on its own as a decent sequel.

  • Aug 12, 2011
**1/2 out of ****

Todd Solondz is a brilliant mind. And he will always be a brilliant mind. He caught my eye when I first saw his controversial second-feature "Happiness", and now to my surprise, he's made a sequel. This is odd, because the ending of the first film was one that never truly asked for a sequel; nor did it shout such a word in our faces. I didn't want a sequel; but I also didn't mind that there was one. I watched "Life During Wartime" with some decent expectations; perhaps even expecting the unexpected. Solodnz is not new to the element of surprise; but that's what I admire about him. And "Life During Wartime" is, in that sense, most definitely a Todd Solondz film.

As a sequel to "Happiness", the film picks up years after the events of that film, with most of the same characters returning; but each played by a different actor. Allan (Michael Kenneth Williams filling in for Philip Seymour Hoffman), the sexually depraved sleazy-phone-caller that once lusted after his neighbor, is now married to Joy (Shirley Henderson replacing Jane Adams), the ironically named, forever-depressed and worrisome sister of Trish (Allison Janney, rather skillfully taking the part from Cynthia Stevenson). If you remember correctly, Trish was married to Bill (Ciaran Hinds, an inferior actor to the previous portrayer, Dylan Baker), who turned out to be a pedophile. Since this story takes place years later after "Happiness", the two sons and the daughter have grown up; the central one of the first film, Billy, now being in college.

Bill is looking for redemption. Joy is still searching for happiness; something that she can't come to terms with due to the fact that she's being frequently visited by the ghost of a former lost lover who offed himself (Paul "Pee Wee" Reubens), and also because her relationship with Allan is often distant and more-often misunderstood.

Timmy, the youngest son of Bill and Trish, is about to become thirteen. The family is Jewish; thus, he must prepare for his grand bar mitzvah. He believes that this will automatically allow him to enter adult-hood; but he is faced with the acceptance of his mother's new lover and his father's true identity, which his mother has been keeping from him forever.

In "Happiness", every central character was depraved. The film was highly controversial and detracted due to its depiction of themes such as masturbation, pedophilia, rape, and the link between happiness and sadness all-together. That was a film that mixed the emotions and sadness, happiness, and humor together flawlessly. With "Life During Wartime", Solondz has captured the basics of human desperation; but attempts to earn his audience through our familiarity with the characters and their personalities from the first film. But he forgets that they were played by different actors, some more capable than the new guys, but none-the-less, he does well here.

The film is good for what it is. "Life During Wartime" is a film that is most definitely worth seeing. It's a dark comedy that turns its once tragic material into all-out farce; instead of just adding humor here-and-there. It's not hilarious, and it's not meant to be, but it does have some very big laughs as long as you can be accepting. I suppose I enjoyed myself when I watched it. This is Todd Solondz's film; this is his story; his world. I admit that he made the film that he may have wanted to make. But a sequel to "Happiness", and a great sequel, was impossible; and he knew it. He's made an entirely different film out of similar material. The actors do their jobs. In the end, there are things I liked about the film and things I greatly disliked. I liked the ambition and the story that it was trying to tell as well as the familiar risks that Solondz took with his screenplay. I also liked the cinematography and the visual craft that accompanies the story-telling. But then again consider the fact that I intend to make a bit of an emotional investment in films that cover such subjects not only for comedy but also for drama; and I just didn't "feel" anything, whilst "Happiness" had me in tears in one of its best scenes. You'll find nothing of the like here, but since films can just "be"; this one isn't all that bad.

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More Life During Wartime (2010) reviews
review by . July 09, 2010
posted in Movie Hype
Life During Wartime"    A Dark Look at Life    Amos Lassen    Trish is about to remarry after having been seperated from her husband who is in prison for pedophilia and she is very excited that he new husband, Harvey, will be a good role model for her two sons. However. Bill is released from prison and the boys are forced to decide if they should forgive and forget. With that is Trish's sister, Joy, who is being haunted by the memories …
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Ryan J. Marshall ()
Ranked #11
It's very likely that the only kind of reviews I'll ever post here are movie reviews. I'm very passionate about film; and at this point, it pretty much controls my life. Film gives us a purpose; … more
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Writer-director Todd Solondz's worldview is on full display inLife During Wartime, and both the outlook and the landscape are bleak. This is a film whose sundry behaviors include pedophilia, homophobia, suicide, kids popping antidepressants, and rampant lying, not to mention buckets of tears; and while there is much talk of forgiveness, there's very little of it actually to be found. Most of the action involves three sisters who first appeared (played by different actresses) in Solondz'sHappiness(1998) and continue to take the fun out of dysfunctional in this one. Trish (Allison Janney) has told her three kids that their dad (Ciaran Hinds) is dead, when in fact he's been in prison for molesting young boys. The ironically named Joy (Shirley Henderson) is a walking rain cloud who darkens every path she crosses, especially those trod by the men in her life; and Helen (Ally Sheedy) is a Hollywood writer whose heights of success are matched by the depth of her neuroses. While there isn't much in the way of plot, per se, the film depicts various developments in the characters' lives: Trish's relationship with a new guy, youngest son Timmy's preparation for his bar mitzvah, Dad's release from prison and tentative steps to reenter the real world. Those familiar with Solondz's earlier movies won't be surprised to discover that none of these scenarios plays out very happily, and there's no doubt that the director's work is not for ...
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Director: Todd Solondz
Runtime: 98 minutes
Studio: IFC Films

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"A Dark Look at Life"
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