Happiness – Review

21 May

Every so often I watch a movie that shakes me to the very core of my being. The reason I got so interested in Happiness was because I kept hearing so many great things about it, but also so many warnings that it is one of the most disturbing films I’ll ever watch. I thought to myself that I’m gonna have to check it out, so that’s exactly what I did. To put it briefly, Happiness is a remarkable movie in terms of everything that exists that makes a movie good. It’s literally all here. That being said, there are many things that are disturbing about this movie other than the obvious one, but that doesn’t mean that I wouldn’t want to see this film go down as a classic in the years to come.

29 - Happiness Poster

The story in this film is a collage of different, every day people whose lives collide due to their obsessive crusades to find happiness in their lives, even though the lack of true joy is their own fault. Joy Jordan (Jane Adams) is the youngest of three sisters, and has recently been feeling lonesome and unfulfilled. Helen Jordan (Lara Flynn Boyle) is the middle sister, and even though she has made a successful career as a novelist, she still has a hard time connecting with people on a true emotional level. When her pathetic neighbor Allen (Philip Seymour Hoffman) anonymously sexually harasses her over the phone, Helen becomes desperate to find the caller and begin a relationship. The eldest sister is Trish Maplewood (Cynthia Stevenson) who is happily married to Bill (Dylan Baker), a wealthy psychiatrist with a few dark secrets of his own, most of which involve pre-pubescent boys. Finally, Mona (Louise Lasser) and Lenny (Ben Gazzara) are the parents of the three sisters, and are now going through a separation which Lenny refuses to end in a divorce.

What’s really interesting about this movie is both how unapologetic it is, but also how real it is. Life, even for average, nothing special people can be darkly comedic and deeply disturbing, just like this movie. There’s nothing in Happiness that is so over the top you wouldn’t believe it could really happen. Everything in this movie can and does happen, and that’s what makes it so hard to watch at times. I found myself cringing and shifting around uncomfortably even when I was laughing at humor that may be darker than any movie I’ve ever seen before this one. There’s a great line in this movie where Helen leans over to Joy and says, “We’re not laughing at you, we’re laughing with you.” To this Joy responds, “But I’m not laughing.”

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That little line of dialogue sums up the movie better than I ever could. We’re watching the lives of these people suffer from enormous pressures, all in the guise of some twisted comedy. So, it’s a comedy and we’re supposed to laugh at them… Right? When I think of comedies, I normally think of films that are pretty light hearted and goofy, and sometimes I laugh at things that I feel like I shouldn’t. Even those movies where the laughing comes with guilt maintain a certain sense of silliness or an upbeat tone. Not Happiness. There is nothing upbeat here, and yet we still laugh. That may be the most disturbing part of the movie. Sure, the pedophile is disturbing enough to keep many viewers away, but this one has real world consequences. We’re laughing at these people, but you don’t see them laughing.

I’ve been told that if you’re going to write something weird, it has to be done in such a way where the writing doesn’t become aware of the strangeness. That’s where Happiness finds it’s footing. There’s nothing especially remarkable about the way this movie is shot. It could easily be a stage play, and sometimes that’s what it feels like. The writer/director of this movie, Todd Solondz, writes this in such a way that is weird, but made me believe like I was watching reality. Perhaps that’s what this movie is really about: a sad reality that we all live in.

The characters in Happiness are pathetic creatures and I’m a son of a bitch for laughing at them, but who could blame me? This movie is dark comedy and it’s darkest, but it’s also drama at it’s most dramatic. This film mostly takes place in the suburbs of New Jersey. Not some bustling city, but a quiet suburb. Much like American Beauty (although this film preceded it by a year), we get to see the suburban dream completely shattered by evils and despair. Recommending this movie is hard due to a lot of the content in it, but if you can stomach some truly disturbing stuff than Happiness may provide you with the strangest and most uncomfortable laughter you’ve ever felt.

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