WARNING: May Contain Spoilers!
Starring: Dylan Baker, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Jane Adams
Writer/Director: Todd Solondz

The Plot

Source = IMDB.com/John Sacksteder

When a young woman rejects her current overweight suitor in a restaurant, he unexpectedly places a curse on her. The film then moves on to her sisters. One is a happily married woman with a psychiatrist husband and three kids. Unfortunately the husband develops an unnatural fascination for his 11 year old son's male classmates, fantasizes about mass killing in a park, and masturbates to teen magazines. One of his patients has an unrequited fascination for the third sister. Meanwhile the apparently stable 40 year marriage of the sister's parents suddenly unravels when he decides he has had enough and wants to live a hermit's life in Florida.

The Review

Happiness may be the most disturbing, uncomfortable film I have ever watched. Through some of the parts, I literally sat there, eyes wide open and jaw hitting the ground. This film makes you want to take a shower, then take another shower to get off the grime you didn't get off the first time...and I LOVED it.

The cast of Happiness is absolutely pitch perfect, and everyone does an amazing job. Since this is from 1998, this is when Phillip Seymour Hoffman was just finally getting over being "the dude with the hat from Twister", and you can see the brilliance he would soon show in his later work, playing a lonely sexually frustrated recluse named Allen. Jon Lovitz, only in one scene at the beginning, completely knocked it out of the park with his speech when the main character of Joy breaks up with him. It's a shame Lovitz will never get the chance to do any serious stuff, because judging by this movie, he could have Hoffman's career easily.

Dylan Baker, playing Bill Maplewood, has the most challenging and vile role in the movie. Simply put, he's a pedophile who lusts after young boys. From when this is introduced (he buys a kids magazine and masturbates to it in his car) to his escapades with rape and drugging, to he is finally found out, you cannot simply believe what is happening. Baker, for better or worse, portrays a messed up pedophile very believably and I can finally see why people find him underrated. Still, he played a pedophile very convincingly and that may or may not be a good thing.

The main character is Joy, played by Jane Adams, who after dumping the Lovitz character, eventually tries to make something of her life. Out of her three sisters (including Bill's wife Trish and famous writer Helen), she is the biggest failure. First, Lovitz's character kills himself. Then, she tries to do good and crosses a picket line to teach immigrants, where she is seduced by a "married" Russian immigrant. She is, to be frank, very pitiful and unlikeable.

Although the subject matter was dark, I was captivated by it. Todd Solondz, who directed one of my favorite films Welcome to the Dollhouse, created a world full of messed up stuff and messed up people and made it work. I couldn't turn it off, whether it was for shock value or just how amazing the cast was, it didn't matter. I even went back and watched a few parts again, just to make sure my brain wasn't making things up.

I know I've given out some plot points, but Happiness needs to be seen to be truly believed and I haven't begun to scratch the surface of how messed up and good this movie is. If you have any conservatism in your blood or are easily offended, never ever ever watch this movie, but if you know Solondz or you like movies that are actually challenging and ballsy, I would recommend this...and just wait for the last two scenes of the movie. I guarantee you'll either squirm or scream in disbelief.

Final Verdict:

8/29/2010 06:22:49 am


I found your site from another site from this site I hit on accident, and after looking about a bit thought I'd settle long enough to leave a comment. A well written and insightful review of the film. I especially liked your points about Hoffman and Lovitz - perhaps the latter because I just watched A League of Their Own again and his small part at the beginning is truly memorable. All in all I found Happiness much the way you described and while I wasn't as interested in the overt, frequently disturbing exploration of the knots of emotionally and sexually off-balance characters, it does highlight Todd Solondz style and talent.

As a reviewer myself, I'd like to invite you over to my blog - Above the Line: Practical Movie Reviews

8/29/2010 11:52:55 am

Hey, thanks for the comment! I will be checking out your site.

I feel like Lovitz's dramatic potential has sadly been underutilized and will be continue to be, either because no one wants to cast him in a drama or because he wants to stay a comedian.


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