“Life During Wartime” Offers Depressing Comedy
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades
I actually have an app on my iPhone that locates registered sex offenders and maps the ones living nearby. Disturbing, I have to admit.
But you don’t need the app. Just go to a Todd Solondz film if you want to encounter a friendly pedophile. The writer/director made a name for himself with a little indie picture called “Happiness” (1998). The title shows his sense of irony, for this black comedy about three New Jersey sisters and their miserable sex lives was anything but happy. In fact, having a sympathetic pedophile as a main character caused quite a stir, but earned “Happiness” an International Federation of Film Critics prize for its “controversial contemporary themes, richly-layered subtext, and remarkable fluidity of visual style.”
Now Todd Solondz returns to the screen with a sequel called “Life During Wartime.” It was originally titled “Forgiveness,” for the legacy of child molestation still lingers in this follow-up story about the same three sisters and their screwed-up families.
Oddly enough, different actresses play the sisters in the two films.
First time around the sisters – Helen, Trish, and Joy Jordan – are portrayed by Lara Flynn Boyle (“Men in Black II”), Cynthia Stevenson (“Jennifer’s Body”), and Jane Adams (“Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”). Trish’s pedophiliac husband is chillingly played by Dylan Baker (“Spider-Man III”). And Philip Seymour Hoffman (“Capote”) is a neighbor who makes obscene phone calls.
This time, the sisters are portrayed by Ally Sheedy (“Short Circuit”), Allison Janney (“Juno”), and Shirley Henderson (“Trainspotting”). Ciaràn Hinds (“Race to Witch Mountain”) takes on the role of the sex offender who has now been released from prison. Paul Reubens (better known as Peewee Herman) is a boyfriend who committed suicide. And Charlotte Rampling (“Swimming Pool”) is a one-night-stand who describes herself as a “monster.”
In “Life During Wartime” ten years have passed since the shocking revelations of “Happiness” and the sisters face dilemmas that stir up sad memories, ghosts, and questions about forgiveness. It’s a complex film about a dysfunctional family, three separate stories that merge. The sins of the father haunt the sons, causing Timmy (Dylan Riley Snyder) to cast false suspicion on his mother’s beau (Michael Lerner). And the father seeks to connect with his other son (Chris Marquette) to make sure the boy will not turn out like dear ol’ dad.
Solondz has become a cult director, known for his examination of the “dark underbelly of middle class American suburbia,” inspired by his own boyhood in New Jersey. “Some people will of course accuse me of misanthropy and cynicism,” he says. “I can’t celebrate humanity but I’m not out to indict it either. I just want to expose certain truths.”
“Life During Wartime” has been described as “an utterly hilarious exploration of the boundaries of forgiveness, family, and love.” And at one level I suppose it is a comedy. But you’ll more likely find it shocking and filled with an underlying sense of despair. Todd Solondz’ sense of humor decidedly is an acquired taste.
[from Solares Hill]