Thursday, November 17, 2016

A review of 'Happiness' I had forgotten to post

I first saw this movie several years back and was left feeling...well, more than a little odd. It was bizarre and creepy and made me feel gross and dirty. But it stuck with me somehow, and so I felt the need to check it out again. I wrote the following review almost exactly 2 months ago and simply forgot to post it. So here it is:

A great American farce, Todd Solonz's twisted comic masterpiece about the search for happiness (often through sex) is that particular brand of comedy that's nearly impossible to laugh at, but rather cringe at while uneasily letting out a muted chuckle.

This is the kind of film that never shies away from revealing the darkest desires and greatest fears humanity keeps locked away. The irony is in the film's tone. Taking very dark stories and presenting them in such a light, Hallmark made-for-TV fashion was a bold move that's bound to leave unsuspecting viewers cold. But, with its NC-17 rating and willingness to delve so deeply into depravity - both visually and verbally - this was obviously never a film intended for wide audiences. And this is a large part of what makes the film so effective.

If you just listened to the music, you'd likely assume this was a heartwarming family comedy. The generally cheery soundtrack and vibrant colors are used very cleverly here, reflecting the kind of idealistic exterior the film's characters hide behind; a thin shell of perfection masking the depravities, insecurities, and falsehood within. Every character in this movie wants or pretends to be happy, while very few are able to achieve it in any capacity. And as we see them develop as their stories progress, it becomes evident that very few of them would even deserve it - let alone know what to do with themselves if they found it.

The entire cast are uniformly terrific, though I feel obligated to point out the major standout here: Dylan Baker, as a family man/pedophile. Not only does he manage to make this deplorable character painfully sympathetic, but also cuts right through the drama at its heights to deliver some of the funniest moments in the film - his last scene, in particular. I also immensely enjoyed the music played in the moments between him and his son, hilariously punctuating every scene as if preparing to cut to commercials after Opie and Andy Griffith just shared a touching moment. I feel it's also important to add that a majority of the dialogue in these scenes involves masturbation and/or ejaculation.

As a viewer, you get a good grasp on the characters, what motivates them, and ultimately the circumstances that prevent them from being happy. But instead of expecting you to feel sympathy for them, this film affords you the opportunity to laugh directly at them and the absurdity of their respective situations. What makes this so hilarious is how, in doing so, Solondz is essentially forcing us to laugh at ourselves. Because regardless of the specifics, there's a little bit of all these people inside of us: all the longing, secrecy, superficiality, entitlement, naivety, sexual desire, and shame. Every story delves into at least one of these feelings, cleverly picking apart and punishing the characters for every attempt they make towards doing anything more than settling for mediocrity, mundanity, and dissatisfaction.

Do they deserve happiness? Do they deserve to suffer? It's simply not that black and white. After all, "we all have our pluses and minuses".

No comments: