Friday, July 23, 2010

During Wartimes Happiness Found In Dollhouses

Life During Wartime

In Life During Wartime director Todd Solondz revisits many of the characters that he brought to life so vividly in his films Welcome to the Dollhouse and Happiness, 15 and 12 years ago respectively. After once being married to a pedophile, Bill (Ciarán Hinds), Trish (Allison Janney) is happy that she has finally found herself a normal guy, Harvey (Michael Lerner). Trish and Harvey want to get married but their relationship becomes complicated when Bill is released from prison. Meanwhile, Trish’s sister Joy (Shirley Henderson) and her husband Allen (Michael K. Williams) are having problems of their own due to Allen’s habitual immoral habits. Joy decides to takes a solo trip to reconnect with her family but is haunted by the ghost of a past lover. Both Trish and Joy must figure out if it is better to forgive the past or to forget it all together.

Life During Wartime is like warmed over comfort food in many ways. You really do not need it but it satisfies for a brief time before you are ultimately hungry again. As a big fan of Solondz’s previous films I had no problem with the fact that he used a completely new cast to fill out each role. It did take me a while though to reconnect with the characters as it has been ages since I last saw either Welcome to the Dollhouse or Happiness.

I was pleased with the character interpretations that this new cast brought to the film. Janny, Henderson, Williams, Charlotte Rambling, and Paul Rubens are all quite good in their given roles. Yet I could not help but wonder what the actors from the original films would have done with this material? I think this is one of the main issues that hinders Life During Wartime overall. Instead of providing its own cinematic mark, Life During Wartime merely makes you want to revisit the dark beauty of Happiness all over again. Happiness was such a good movie that it really did not warrant a sequel. The same can be said, though to a slightly lesser extent, about Welcome to the Dollhouse. I felt like I knew everything I needed to know about these characters. I was never inclined to ponder “whatever happened to…?”

Todd Solondz trademark dark humor is still intact but somehow the film seems to play things much safer here than in his previous films. Solondz does raise some interesting questions on the lengths of human forgiveness; but this is a theme that he explored far better in his last film, Palindromes. At the end of the day, Life During Wartime serves as a nice reminder that I need to rent Happiness again more than anything else.


  1. I love Solondz, Happiness is one of my favourite movies and I can't wait to see it. Where did you catch it?

  2. @Mike - I actually caught this at TIFF last year. It just opened up in LA and New York this past weekend. I believe it will hit Toronto in the next week or so.


Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.