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A typical family and its satellites, at least so it seems. But that’s not how they really are. There is Joy (Jane Adams), a single aspiring songwriter, who feels she should have a man and a stable life like her married older sister Trish (Cynthia Stevenson); Trish, a housewife, who feels inferior to sister Helen (Lara Flynn Boyle), a successful author; Helen, meanwhile, wants a life with more danger and crunch to give her writing authenticity. Helen's lonely, insecure and obscene phone-calling neighbour Allen (Philip Seymour Hoffman) longs for Helen while considering her inaccessible, even as he becomes the object of similar feelings from another lonely neighbour, Kristina (Camryn Manheim). And Trish’s husband Bill (Dylan Baker), is a psychiatrist who lives with a terrible secret which explodes in slow motion through the story. Solondz sees a world with people who want what they haven't got, never realising how much it can cost them.

"Everything we face in the microcosm of daily very private lives is sucked into this movie with the almost sadistically ironic teasing title, Happiness. With its Altmanesque plaiding of several interlocking stories and characters Solondz creates revealing portraits of an urban microcosm. Happiness is full of irony, pathos, and humour of the kind that escapes your throat as a groan stapled to a laugh. There is no question it is bravura writing and excruciatingly real cinema verité, well observed, detailed and poignant. If you sense a note of hesitation, it’s because I feel that Todd has allowed his shock tactics to run away with him on a couple of occasions – this generates a sort of undergraduate flavour, reveling in being shocking when it has already made a much more powerful point. The shock distracts us, weakening his dramatic point. I am not going to give you examples because a) it would spoil the film’s surprises and I hate that; and b) because it would take too long. Performances are fantastic - everyone. There are vignettes and essays, but all of them bristle with the tension of painfully real life: people who are uncertain, contradictory, warm, stupid, lovable, unbearable and surprising, just like all of us. The layers are peeled back, their – and perhaps our - deepest secrets revealed. Fear this movie."
Andrew L. Urban

"There comes a time when one can feel that American cinema in particular is at a stage of stagnancy, then along comes someone like Todd Solondz to wake us up, jolt us even, out of our complacency. Happiness, is a film of sheer audacity, intellect and overwhelming brilliance, yet one that takes the cinema to depths that the mainstream would never attempt. Happiness is a black comedy, one that explores the very inner sanctity of our soul. It's about the tragedy of the human experience, the way we fail to communicate with each other, the exterior nature of our own so-called happiness. This is a film that is both mawkishly distressing and utterly hilarious, yet when we laugh, we do so at the perilous worlds inhabited by this motley group of characters, so vividly brought to life by a remarkably brave ensemble cast. Brave, because they play characters that we might talk about but would never see on the screen. The performances are truly remarkable, from Philip Seymour Hoffman as the sexually disturbed neighbour (well, more so than most, in this movie) who captures the tragic essence of pathetic loneliness taken to its extreme; Camryn Manheim continues to emerge as a revelation. The award-winning star of TV's The Practice delivers a finely tuned, beautifully subtle performance as a woman whose desperate need to love has tragic consequences. In the most difficult performance, Dylan Baker gives an intricate, intelligent performance as a man of outward respectability who bears the darkest of urges. And the list goes on. Happiness, sharply observed by writer/director Solondz, is a film that takes enormous risk, and some of us might shy away from certain moments. This is no escapist fantasy, but a work deeply profound, remarkably edgy, surprisingly funny and very human. It takes the viewer on an extraordinary journey, inviting us to accept characters that are tragic yet irresistible. There's never been a film quite like Happiness; it's a unique and unforgettable work."
Paul Fischer

"The most punishing movie in town, Todd Solondz's Happiness is an endless grind through lurid scenes of sexual frustration, currently one of arthouse cinema's most marketable themes. As in Solondz's earlier Welcome To The Dollhouse, the crass comic-book approach is bluntly designed to make you cringe, inviting horrified empathy as well as self-protective laughter. The film generates most of its brittle irony by modelling itself on the emptied-out non-style of daytime TV: bright flat lighting, monotonous cross-cutting between loosely related vignettes, tinkling muzak used as smarmy punctuation. Most of the 'action' consists of static, intimately painful conversations between tag- teams of socially inept losers, leading up to some verbal shock effect or moralistic payoff. During these marathon torture sessions, the camera holds relentlessly to a few hemmed-in set-ups, with nothing to distract the audience from a ghastly awareness that every awkward pause and gauche remark has been carefully timed, scripted and rehearsed. After a while my main responses were depression and boredom: Solondz's exploration of his subject is severely limited by this stiffly stylised approach, which keeps the 'shocking' material at arm's length, relies on mockery of TV cliches for its big laughs, and traps most of the actors inside rigid stock characters - such as a stoic, tortured pervert and his chirpy neurotic wife - who suggest the cardboard citizens of a corrupt suburban Pleasantville. Yet the mix of cartoonish black humour with bland apparent naturalism does lend the film an intriguing surrealist edge."
Jake Wilson

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Favourable: 2
Unfavourable: 0
Mixed: 1



CAST: Jane Adams, Dylan Baker, Lara Flynn Boyle, Ben Gazzara, Jared Harris, Philip Seymour Hoffman, jon Lovitz, Marla Maples, Cynthia Stevenson, Elizabeth Ashley, Louise Lasser, Camryn Maneheim, Rufus Read, Anne Bobby, Dan Moran, Evan Silverberg

PRODUCERS: Ted Hope, Christine Vachon

DIRECTOR: Todd Solondz

SCRIPT: Todd Solondz


EDITOR: Alan Oxman

MUSIC: Robbie Kondor


RUNNING TIME: 139 minutes



VIDEO RELEASE: Sept 29, 1999


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