Happiness

134 minutes 2013

I'll concede that Todd Solondz's absorbing 134-minute epic of sexual disgruntlement in the New Jersey suburbs (1998) is worth seeing, and not only for shock value. But I don't think it deserves all the high marks it's been getting for compassion and understanding, especially given its campy use of elevator music whenever the misery of its large cast of characters gets too close for comfort. Everyone who likes this movie calls it "disturbing," but what disturbs me most is the self-loathing laughter it provokes, similar to what one often hears at Woody Allen and Michael Moore comedies. So even if I'm touched by the treatment of a child molester who loves his son, I don't like that I'm also supposed to sympathize with the molester when he's working as a therapist who doesn't listen to his clients. An obsessive primitive with a clodhopper sense of excess, Solondz has already proved in Welcome to the Dollhouse (a better film overall) that he can carry dark obsessions further than most. But he still stoops to teenage gross-out antics like those of the Farrelly brothers, calling it art rather than entertainment and knowing that the media will go along. Happiness is at least as pretentious as any Robert Altman flag-waver, even as it broadens the scope of permissible film content and gives its cast plenty to chew over. With Dylan Baker, Jane Adams, Lara Flynn Boyle, Ben Gazzara, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Cynthia Stevenson, and Jared Harris.

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