Published Sep 22, 2009A sequel of sorts to 1998's Happiness, with an entirely different cast, writer/director Todd Solondz continues his assault against suburban dysfunction by returning to his most successful characters. Remember, this includes a phone pervert and a paedophile psychotherapist.
The film opens with a reprise of Happiness's still-harrowing restaurant monologue scene, only now with Allan (the simpering phone pervert, originally rendered by Philip Seymour Hoffman) and fragile, hippie-lite Joy (now played by Ally Sheedy), with Joy later to be haunted by the now-suicided Andy (played by Paul Reubens).
From here, Solondz turns more of a focus towards Trish, whose paedophile husband has been locked in prison after a series of horrifying sleepovers with their son's friend. Trish is set to remarry the "normal" Harvey (Michael Lerner, one of the few actors actually allowed to bring dignity to his role), while her younger son Timmy deals with the news of his father's activity by worrying about becoming a "faggot" by blood. And once Bill, the tormented paedophile, is released from prison, everyone is forced to confront what they're striving to forget and determine what's within the possibility of forgiveness.
Life During Wartime further exposes the flaws that weakened Happiness upon repeat viewings, most notably a distracting distance of irony from the characters even the talented cast couldn't overcome. The characters drift along in their misery, succumbing to their fears and insecurities without much point or resolve, and the effect is wearying.
Solondz still knows how to draw compelling characters and occasionally build heartbreaking scenes around them; Bill's confrontation with his now college-age pothead son Billy almost makes the preceding ludicrousness worthwhile.
However, too much of Life During Wartime is simply misery with a satisfied smirk. (E1)