“Life During Wartime” – 2009. Dir. Todd Solondz

With Allison Janey, Michael Lerner, Dylan Riley Snyder, Ally Sheedy, Shirley Henderson, Michael K. Williams with Paul Reubens with Charlotte Rampling and Ciaran Hinds

“I’m sorry I said you were shit and I was champagne.” – Andy (Paul Reubens)

Man, how does one even begin to review a Todd Solondz film? Better yet – how does one even begin to review a Todd Solondz film that’s a sequel to his masterpiece “Happiness”? “Life During Wartime” has to be one of the most imaginative and inventive sequels that I’ve seen. Most of the characters from “Happiness” do appear in this film, but the catch is this film has an entirely different cast.

As in “Happiness”, this film at its core revolves around three sisters who are all confused – and for that matter – are all fucked up. Joy (Shirley Henderson – Jane Adams in “Happiness”) is the “innocent” and “good natured” Joy who in reality does nothing but hurt people. She’s so dumb and “good natured” to realize what she’s actually doing.

While Joy married Allen, who has the most radical transformation between the frumpy Phillip Seymour Hoffman from “Happiness” to Michael K. Williams a scared black gangbangerish creeper in the new film, she has frequent visits from the deceased Andy (Paul Reubens – Jon Lovitz in “Happiness”) who had killed himself because Joy broke his heart.

Andy is very gentle at first, as Joy tells him how guilty she feels, how horrible she feels for breaking his heart – and then when Andy asks if she’d like to try again, she coldly shuts him down by insulting him and demeaning him.

Trish (Allison Janey – Cynthia Stevenson in “Happiness”) is struggling to find normality while she raises Timmy and Billy (who is off at college now) on her own, while her husband Bill (Ciaran Hinds – Dylan Walsh in “Happiness”) is just being released from prison for sexually molesting one of Billy’s friends when they were young boys.

Trish has begun dating Harvey Wiener (Michael Lerner – and yes, the name makes me laugh), who is a divorcee and as Trish calls him, “normal”. They’re relationship grows, but as Timmy (Dylan Riley Snyder) questions Trish more about his father – things become confused with Timmy and he assumes the role of man of the house.

Helen (Ally Sheedy – Lara Flynn Boyle in “Happiness”) is an introverted, alcoholic screen writer that is still a snide bitch, and very paranoid by her surroundings. Joy has always looked up to Helen, and always sought out her advice – which makes sense since Joy is just as snide and introverted.

While all these actors (minus Michael Learner and Charlotte Rampling) are playing characters that have already been established, they bring their own to the role they’ve assumed. Aside from Allen being the most drastic transformation I felt that Ciaran Hinds take on Bill was much different from Dylan Walsh’s.

While the character of Bill is a child rapist, when Walsh played him he wasn’t menacing, and you somehow found a way to like him. With Hinds’ performance, I do “like” his character, but he is more menacing – particularly due to his physical appearance.

This film isn’t as visually disturbing as “Happiness”, it still is disturbing. Many events in the film are as uncomfortable as ever, but you still find away to laugh. Whether it be disbelieve in the events on screen, or a simple dialogue exchange Solondz has impeccable humor and comedic timing that he brings to his screenplays.

If you can decode the film enough, it’s a very interesting look at the human condition, and how forgiveness is a very powerful tool, and how we are all so misunderstood and so misguided through life. This film is not for everyone and for that matter; Todd Solondz’s films in general are not for everyone. While the ending of the first film had an almost heartwarming feel to it, Solondz pulls the rug from under our feet in “Life During Wartime” and breaks our hearts. Well, at least he broke mine. This is one of the best films of the year.

Rating: 9.5/10

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Author: Frank Mengarelli

Everybody relax, Frank's here. After going to film school at Columbia College Chicago, Frank decided to underachieve with his vast knowledge of film into a career in civil service. Frank had a brief stint as a film blogger, and then he met the heterosexual love of his life, Nick Clement. The two instantly bonded over their love from everything to Terence Malick to THE EXPENDABLES films. Some of Frank's favorite filmmakers are Terence Malick, Martin Scorsese, Quentin Tarantino, Sylvester Stallone, Oliver Stone and Spike Lee. Some of his favorite films are THE TREE OF LIFE, STAR WARS (all of them), BAD LIEUTENANT, THE THING and ALL THAT JAZZ. Frank spends his free time with his dog Roger, collecting any Star Wars collectible he can find and trying to finish his pretentious, first person narrative novel(la), LARGE MEN IN SMALL CARS..

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