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Happiness

Year: 1998
Production Co: Good Machine
Director: Todd Solondz
Writer: Todd Solondz
Cast: Dylan Baker, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Jane Adams, Cynthia Stevenson, Lara Flynn Boyle, Jon Lovitz

The process of stripping movies of anything in the least bit controversial so as to appeal to the broadest possible audience, is territory so alien to the films of Todd Solondz they might as well be on different planets.

Who else would peel back the genteel veneer of contemporary American life to show an impotently angry white male (Hoffman) so emasculated by society he's driven to haranguing a beautiful neighbour with brutal, obscene phone calls or a straight-laced father who gives in to his compulsion to sexually molest prepubescent boys (and props for the latter go for Baker for having the bravado to play such a character)?

The jumping off point is a family of three sisters and their parents in the respectable new Jersey suburbs and how sex and love shapes their lives and those of the various (and variously sick) men around them.

Joy (Adams) can't find any luck in love when yet another potential suitor (Lovitz) takes her rejection badly, resulting in a scene sodden with bristled tension in a pleasant restaurant. Her sister Chloe (Stevenson) is married to buttoned down psychiatrist Bill (Baker), who jacks off to teen boy magazines and becomes the very media picture of a predator, an ineffectual looking suburban Dad jockeying to take advantage of the young friend of his son's in the worst possible way as the boy stays over at his house.

Third sister Helen (Boyle) is the self-absorbed writer looking for painful truth in her work to the extent she feels unlucky for not having been raped as a young girl and who unexpectedly responds to the timid but angry Allen (Hoffman) and his sweaty, slobbering phone calls.

They all combine to tell a story Solondz skilfully absents himself and his point of view from, except perhaps to highlight the fact that these people walk among us. The brutal, cold, fearless antithesis of Hollywood moviemaking.

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