Friday, July 30, 2010
Life During Wartime
A dozen years ago, write/director Todd Solondz created a few unforgettably miserable characters in his shockingly uncompromising, wickedly funny, and profoundly fascinating master piece "Happiness."
Some of these miserable characters came back in Solondz's highly anticipated "Life During Wartime" (USA 2009 | 98 min.). In this new film, these characters go on with their lives to "forget and forgive," but they have little luck in searching for a way out of their misery.
"Life During Wartime" is a quasi sequel of the must-see "Happiness," and it has a few amusing references to its predecessor. However, it can utterly stand alone by itself. Although this film is funny, sharp, and full of Solondz's trademark black humor dialogues, it has a mellower tone compared to "Happiness." In addition, Solondz chooses a complete different cast to play these characters, and they are not quite the same any more, even their lives of ten years ago can be easily traced in this film.
The film opens with a painfully funny scene when Joy (Shirley Henderson) tries to break off from her perversive husband Allen (Michael K. Williams). Then, she visits her sister Trish (Allison Janney) in Florida, while she is constantly haunted by her deceased ex-boyfriend Andy (Paul Reubens). After her pedophile husband Bill (Ciarán Hinds) is in prison, Trish is trying to build a new life by dating Harvey (Michael Lerner), under the close watch from her curious young son Timmy (Dylan Riley Snyder).
Trish has been telling Timmy that his father Bill is dead. Of course, Bill is not. He is actually released from prison and pays a surprise visit to his elder son Billy (Chris Marquette), after a brief encounter with a lonely woman Jacqueline (Charlotte Rampling) he met in a hotel.
This brief scrappy description of the plot only indicates how eventful the film is and how many humorous conversations it contains. Nobody writes razor-sharp dialogues like Todd Solondz. He brilliantly injects social and political commentaries into his characters' matter-of-fact yet provocative speeches. He feeds his characters with the most outrageous and quotable lines. Then he directs the actors to speak with maximum sincerity and in a complete earnest manner, which is precisely how he creates those comic moments in his film. He is a master at manipulating his audience to make them laugh aloud as well as feel unease at the same time.