The search for happiness connects lonely lives in this subversively funny new film from Todd Solondz (Welcome to the Dollhouse). Meet three sisters at the center of a struggle with the secret demons of middle class perfect... more »ion. There's Joy who is rebounding from a break-up with her latest loser boyfriend (Jon Lovitz); Helen (Lara Flynn Boyle) a glamorous writer looking for drama in a relationship with a slovenly obscene phone caller (Philip Seymour Hoffman); and then there's Trish (Cynthia Stevenson) the housewife who appears to have it all including a shrink husband (Dylan Baker) who has a secret obsession which he manages to hide from his family and friends.System Requirements:Starring Jane Adams Elizabeth Ashley Dylan Baker Lara Flynn Boyle Ben Gazzara Jared Harris Philip Seymour Hoffman Jon Lovitz Camryn Manheim Rufus Read Cynthia Stevenson Directed by Todd Solondz Running time: 140 minutes Copyright Lion's Gate 2003Format: DVD MOVIE Genre: COMEDY Rating: UNRATED UPC: 031398826620 Manufacturer No: VM8266D« less
Brad S. (Snibot) from DALLAS, TX Reviewed on 1/16/2010...
Difficult subject matter, it was like watching your worst nightmare unfold.
The first five minutes are very deceptive. Jon Lovitz plays a great part and it is hilarious; after that however, there is nothing funny that happens in the rest of the movie.
The acting, writing, and direction are well done. Listing this movie as a comedy is simply wrong. I laughed during House of 1,000 Corpses, The Hills Have Eyes, and Texas Chainsaw Massacre, but this movie gave me nightmares ...
Sick, twisted, disturbing - but you can't stop watching it
M. Burns | Columbus, Ohio | 10/26/2004
(4 out of 5 stars)
"There have been few times that I've sat for more than two hours, intently watching a film, screaming "I hate this movie!" as the credits begin to roll, but then realize that I don't hate it at all. In fact, I don't know if that has ever happened before, but last night, after the final, revolting line of Todd Solondz's 1998 shocker Happiness, I did just that, and probably because I couldn't bring myself to admit I liked it. It's a movie that deals with wildly perverse subject matter, contains not a truly likeable character in the whole bunch, and doesn't even bother to show the consequences of the horrible actions for any of its transgressors. If there is a poster-child movie for complete and total amorality, Happiness is the one. But I liked it, and that scares me.
Joy (Jane Adams) has absolutely nothing in common with her name; her sister Helen (Lara Flynn Boyle) is a sultry, narcissistic author who wants the experience of being raped to make her writing authentic; other sister Trish (Cynthia Stevenson) is married to Dr. Bill Maplewood (Dylan Baker) and has three kids. Dr. Bill is a pedophile who pleasures himself to teen magazines in the backseat of his car and has dreams of murdering strangers in a park; Dr. Bill's strangest patient, Allen (Phillip Seymour Hoffman), makes obscene phone calls and has an inventive way of pasting postcards to the wall; Allen's neighbor, Kristina (Camryn Manheim), is in love with him but has her own disgusting little story to hide. Nearly every character has a dark side, the only truly 'good' one (Joy) seems to get everything wrong, and the one romance that blooms during the movie has a twinge of wrongness to it. The movie is a strung-together mosaic of perpetual sadness, the search for the remedy, and the stomach-churning causes of it all; and yet, between my gasps of shock and uneasiness, I can't say there's a boring moment in the film.
The most difficult character in the movie to even look at is, obviously, Dr. Maplewood. Dylan Baker has that glaring gaze that could boil cheese, and it takes on an especially creepy tone when he's gazing longingly at his son's baseball teammate at a little league game. But, believe it or not, Solondz injects comedy even into something as despicable as the Maplewood situation. The film's most controversial scene, involving drugged chocolate sundaes and a tuna salad sandwich, is god-awfully wrong...but had me thinking about that great moment in Psycho when Marion Crane's car stops as it's sinking into the swamp and Norman Bates panics for a moment. And laughing, too. This element of the plot angered many people in 1998 and is still something to wrestle to this day; why make Maplewood a three-dimensional man with real emotions when all he is is a predatory pederast? Because it wouldn't be interesting, it wouldn't be watchable, if he wasn't. Take a climactic scene in the film, that must deal with the truths of Maplewood's actions: Solondz creates a scene that is brutally honest and deeply disturbing, but still grounded in the poignancy of a father-son discussion.
I found myself alternating between pure puzzlement and a desire to turn the movie off in its first, love-it-or-leave-it act. But Solondz is in such control of his connecting plot strands that he makes the links quickly, moves in and out of them with ease, and even allows for unexpectedly moving moments to occur. The great subplot of the film is with Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Camryn Manheim. In some ways, it sums up the entire theme of the film, while having all of Happiness' strengths and weaknesses. Solondz gives us a great scene where the two come together, dancing to a pop song in a bar, and it's a brief moment of euphoria and sweetness despite the depravity that surrounds and underscores it. Of course, for some viewers, the hidden lives of even Allen and Kristina may be too strange to merit caring about. I struggled with it, too.
Solondz made a very good film a few years ago, Storytelling (rent it), that contains similarly risque subject matter but ends up being too facile in the resolutions of the two vignettes that comprise the film. His breakthrough movie, Welcome to the Dollhouse, came before Happiness, and takes a similarly piercing look at real life but is bogged down too much in its deadpan humor and relentless punishment of its protagonist. Happiness straddles the shortcomings of both of those films, neither offering a simple resolution to its problems or being too strange to the point where unrealism sets in. It is real, it is complex, and it's also deeply disturbing and maybe morally offensive. I'm also known for not really caring about the morality of a movie, so maybe that's why I was never bored or too offended at any time.
The best line in Happiness comes toward the very end, when the sisters and their parents are sitting around talking about a grisly New Jersey murder, involving dismemberment and plastic baggies, that occurred in the apartment building of Flynn Boyle's Helen. "Everyone uses baggies; that's why we can relate to this crime," she says. Happiness is one of those twisted American suburbia flicks that contains things that happen every day, probably closer to us than we expect. That's why I could relate to this movie. I don't expect you to; in fact, I don't blame you if you hate it with a passion or don't get past the first ten minutes. Things will happen that will disgust you, revolt you, and disturb you. There is no reason why anyone should like this movie or why it should 'work.' But I was entertained in some sick and twisted way, even while my jaw stayed glued to the floor. Don't say I didn't warn you, and extensively...but I dare you to see it. A- "
Represents everything good about indepent film
dementia25 | phoenix, az | 06/02/1999
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Definitely one of the best movies of the decade, and one of the best independent films of all time. I saw this movie in the theater because i was already of fan of the director, Todd Solondz, after seeing and loving his first film, Welcome to the Dollhouse. This film goes where no film has dared even think about going in the past, completely redefing the term "black comedy". The movie intertwines several loosely related plotlines(a la Pulp Fiction), all involving outwardly banal suburban characters whose private lives are actually teeming with depravity and tragedy, ineptitude and self-loathing. The film is at its most audacious when following the trials and tribulations of an average suburban psychologist who also just happens to be a homosexual pedophile. In this particular storyline, Solondz takes this repellent figure, this Grendel of modern society, and exposes his life in such tragically comic and crushingly depressing tones as to make you reevaluate your initial preconceived notions of the John Wayne Gaycie's of the world. This film has the singular distinction of containing the only scene in which i felt the urge to laugh, vomit, and cry simultaneously. If you are a prude or a moralizing, close-minded fundamentalist of one type or another, you will probably find this movie "filthy" and "morally bankrupt". If so, then you, of course, are the type of person who needs to see this movie most of all. Anyone else with an open mind and a taste for shocking, thought provoking media of any kind will enjoy this unsentimental look at the by-products of America's Suburban Utopia."
Get Out Your Addressbook and See for Yourself
John Dolan | the eXile, Moscow | 09/25/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Happiness tells the terrible truth about our blank lives. No guns, no catchphrases, no handy resolution. This is us. Reviewers who claim that it's too negative should try a simple experiment: get out your addressbook and go through ten randomly-chosen names. Then ask yourself whether Happiness is really an exaggeration of the terrible loneliness of cubicle-life in the American middle class. Hate this film if you like, but at least tell the truth about why you hate it: because it shows the simple, bland, unbearable truth."
KEEP THE KIDS AWAY!
RMurray847 | Albuquerque, NM United States | 03/21/2003
(4 out of 5 stars)
"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 tone that movie ends with.But the source of all the controversy in this movie is the character played by the brave, brilliant Dylan Baker. He plays a totally milquetoast, average, middle-class father. Yet his character is also a child-molester. I wouldn't say his character is presented sympathetically, but he isn't always shown as just a monster either. There's one scene, wherein his son has just discovered his beloved father's secret and questions him in detail about his twisted desires. The scene is hands-down the most uncomfortable thing I've ever watched. I was literally squirming...it is so shocking, so obscene and so terribly, terribly sad. In two minutes, we see how several lives are shattered forever. Baker's performance should have been nominated for an Oscar, but this would have required too much bravery on the part of the selection commmittee.Do I recommend the film? Well, if you aren't afraid to have your limits tested, absolutely. It has a lot to say, not just about child molestation. It's well-acted and written, and has many very funny moments too (one character to another: "I'm not laughing at you, I'm laughing with you." to which the response is: "I'm not laughing." It's from the creator of WELCOME TO THE DOLLHOUSE, so you know it's going to be unconventional. But it is exciting filmmaking. ABSOLUTELY KEEP THE KIDS AWAY FROM IT!"
Very uncomfortable and disturbingly accurate movie
E A Glaser | Delft, The Netherlands | 10/09/2002
(4 out of 5 stars)
""Happiness" is not a movie for everyone by any means. Personally I thought it was occasionally hilarious, brutally honest about the private lives of unhappy people, and frequently painful to watch. The director goes for maximum discomfort in many scenes which really make you squirm in your seat. If you consider yourself an optimist than this movie might seem stomach-turning and exaggerated and pointlessly misanthropic, and you might understandably despise it. I myself could definitely relate to the characters who are unable to escape the cycle of prolonged periods of self-loathing punctuated by moments of brief relief (although I have no desire to make obscene phone calls or prey on young boys).There are four loosely related storylines in "Happiness". The most memorable one looks at a suburban dad who harbors secret fantasies about prepubescent boys. The striking thing is that the man is presented sympathetically -- he is sick, he knows he's sick, but he has nowhere to turn for help. Even though his actions are repugnant, I still ended up feeling sorry for the man himself. I thought the treatment of the issue was effective and not too apologetic for the man's proclivities; child abusers are rightly reviled by society, but the movie reminds you that the taboo is so strong that there is no place for potential offenders to turn. The focus with sex criminals is punishing them after the fact, but are there any outlets where such people can privately seek help before they succumb to their urges? If there aren't, perhaps there should be.The other subplots follow a chronic masturbator, a down-on-her-luck woman who is mistreated throughout the movie in ways that straddle the knife-edge between cruelty and humor, and an older couple whose marraige is dissolving. Maybe it's just me, but I thought Ben Gazzara was scene-stealingly funny as the stoic retiree who just wants to be alone.Anyway, this is a worthwhile movie to see if you are not automatically turned off by the inner lives of desperate people. The uncomfortable scenes force you to think about happiness itself: what is it, who deserves it, and how do I go about getting it anyway?"