Happiness (1998) / Comedy-Drama
MPAA Rated: Not rated, but originally NC-17 for aberrant sexual content, explicit dialogue, disturbing thematic material, violence, and drug content
Running Time: 134 min.
Cast: Lara Flynn Boyle, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Jane Adams, Dylan Baker, Cynthia Stevenson, Jon Lovitz
Director: Todd Solondz
Screenplay: Todd Solondz
Review published April 16, 1999
Happiness is about three sisters with totally different stories. Joy (Adams, I Love Trouble) is freshly rejected by a portly suitor who later commits suicide and can't find a man to take her. Trish (Stevenson, The Player) is a traditionally happily married woman whose shrink husband (Baker, Life with Mikey) is a closet pedophile. Helen (Boyle, Red Rock West) is a successful businesswoman with a stable of handsome men but becomes thrilled by her next door neighbor's (Hoffman, The Big Lebowski) obscene phone calls. Meanwhile their parents are engaged in a loveless separation in their twilight years.
Although Happiness is critically acclaimed, I found it to be a vastly overrated dark comedy that seemingly would rather titillate rather than push forward its engaging theme. At its core, the film is about the troubles and unhappiness caused by one's need (or lack of need) for sex and how it affects the people around them. This unfortunately becomes all but lost in sensationalist and deliberate forays in trying to be controversial rather than to tell a compelling story.
Admittedly, the film does succeed in producing some memorably funny moments, but once the initial unsettling images lose their ability to shock anymore, the film becomes rather tedious and repetitive. It does have it's moments, but it's all rather unpleasant and dull in the end.
©1999 Vince Leo