Take the safety off of the comedy Magnum called “Happiness” and put the barrel in your mouth. You’ll laugh your a*s off as it takes off the back of your head. Here we have the movie Universal Pictures wet their pants over in fear, probably the worst date film of 1998. Over 140 minutes writer/director Todd Solondz gives us worst-case relationships you would be afraid to even contemplate.
Solondz uses (mostly) TV actors and a lot of TV-style situations and gags. Did I mention this was a comedy? A very, very, very black comedy. If this were the sitcom it resembles it would be about the struggle for happiness of three sisters, Trish (Cynthia Stevenson), a wife and mother who appears to have it all, and tells you so; Helen (Lara Flynn Boyle), a beautiful, self-loathing novelist; and Joy (Joyce Adams), a flighty loser who is probably better off than her overbearing sisters. The story expands to include family, friends, and neighbors.
The real kick in the nuts, and the story you’ve probably heard about, is Trish’s husband, Dr. Bill Maplewood (Dylan Baker). He is covering for a lot of violent, aggressive tendencies that erupt into serial pedophilia. His father-son talks with his 11-year old are probably some of the best writing and definitely the most f**ked up thing I’ve seen at the movies this year.
All of us watch situation comedies on television. We all know the lexicon of images and wacky situations and Solondz uses that knowledge to bring us in the door. He proceeds to punch us in the kidneys with the most vivid portrayal of the effects of loneliness I think I’ve ever seen. It’s like the “Friends” cast got off “The Last Exit to Brooklyn”. I never knew what would happen next. The director makes it clear he won’t be bound by anything. He feels empathy for all of his characters, even the pedophile, but lets them get away with nothing. Nobody escapes the repercussions of their actions.
I’m at a loss. When you determine what you think are the best films of the year or ever, spectacle or technical prowess don’t really matter. The films you love and remember are the ones with which you could relate. Movies done well connect to your life, your dreams, or your nightmares. If you can keep from turning your eyes away from the screen, you’re bound to see something here you’ve either done, or at least thought about. It could be the best film of the year. At the very least, I’ll never forget it.