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Separated from her incarcerated pedophile husband Bill (Ciaran Hinds), Trish (Allison Janney) is about to marry again, to Harvey (Michael Lerner), a normal father figure for her two sons. But when Bill is released from prison and the boys finally meet their future stepdad, the family is forced to decide whether to forgive or forget him. Trish's sister, the angelic Joy (Shirley Henderson), is also haunted by ghosts of lovers past. On leave from her degenerate husband, Allen (Michael K. Williams), and her job at a New Jersey correctional facility, Joy unwittingly leaves behind a trail of shame and exposed secrets wherever she goes.

Review by Andrew L. Urban:
In the world of arthouse cinema, American filmmaker Todd Solondz is a highly regarded explorer of humanity's darker side - or should that be sides - with film such as Happiness and now Life During Wartime, which is like a riff on Happiness. Three sisters and people around them struggle with life as if at war with it. Pedophilia, a Solondz signature theme, alienation and misery crowd the screenplay. But alongside those are the issues of forgiveness, something that frees the forgiver, and forgetting, which is even harder.

But Solondz frames his characters in such a way as to enable the viewer to read most scenes as either tragic or deeply, darkly satirically funny. He seems to mock the weaknesses as if they were self inflicted boils on his characters. This mood persists as Joy (Shirley Henderson) comes face to face with a deceased lover, Andy (Paul Reubens) in a dream-like sequence. Solondz takes us into his confidence and trusts us to reflect on his themes, presented with cinematic flair.

With its echoes of Augusten Burroughs' autobiographical, Running with Scissors (d. Ryan Murphy, 2006), Life During Wartime likes to shock and startle us, while sticking pins into its characters. We're never sure how much or how little sympathy Solondz has for them, nor how we feel about them - or at least some of them, most of the time. Like the opening scene in which Allen (Michael K. Williams) unburdens himself about all the illegal and immoral things he is trying to give up, rather unsuccessfully, as demonstrated by the waitress spitting on him when she recognises his voice. This is perverse comedy of the highest order.

Or when little Timmy (Dylan Riley Snyder) asks his mum, Trish (Allison Janney) to explain what "faggots" do to each other, after discovering his dad is a pedophile. Trish's explanation is, on one level, ridiculous and funny; on another, it's tellingly dishonest.

But his judgement sometimes deserts Solondz, like the bar scene when Jacqueline (Charlotte Rampling) makes a move to join lone drinking Bill (Cieran Hinds) just out of prison. The dialogue is almost risible, hiding whatever Solondz intends here. Perhaps he's going for a supersized soap opera tone... And in that context, he has a fabulous cast to let it all hang out.

Published July 14, 2011

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(US, 2009)

CAST: Shirley Henderson, Allison Janney, Dylan Riley Snyder, Ally Sheedy, Paul Reubens, Ciaran Hinds, Charlotte Rampling, Michael Lerner, Chris Marquette

PRODUCER: Derrick Tseng, Christine K. Walker

DIRECTOR: Todd Solondz

SCRIPT: Todd Solondz


EDITOR: Kevin Messman

PRODUCTION DESIGN: Roshelle Berliner

RUNNING TIME: 96 minutes


AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: December 26, 2010



DVD DISTRIBUTOR: Paramount Home Entertainment

DVD RELEASE: July 14, 2011

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