This movie is a comedy… AND one of the most disturbing films ever made… Stranger words have never been spoken. Whenever you think of movies that are labeled ‘most disturbing films ever made,’ the most obvious answers that come to mind are Salo, or 120 Days of Sodom (1975) , A Serbian Film (2010), Martyrs (2008), Cannibal Holocaust (1980), Visitor Q (2001), The Human Centipede (2010), Begotten (1990), Eraserhead (1977), Aftermath (1994), Requiem for a Dream (2000), Irreversible (2002), Nekromanik (1987)… the list goes on and on. There is obviously a prevalent theme that most disturbing movies have: violent and/or horror content. But then there are rare breeds like Happiness (1998) that somehow manage to mesh dark comedy and fucked-up uneasiness in unmatched quality and originality.
It is hard to pinpoint what Happiness is actually about. There are numerous characters with intertwining stories that end up playing out like short snippets of people’s lives that the audience has the fortunate (or unfortunate, depending on how you look at it) privilege of eavesdropping in on. Filmmaker Todd Solondz chooses each role with perfect precision, almost as if these roles were written specifically for these actors. Some highlights include the late Philip Seymour Hoffman as a sexually deviant crank caller, Dylan Baker as a father with a penchant for pedophilia, and Jane Adams, Lara Flynn Boyle, and Cynthia Stevenson as three grown sisters with a never ending sibling rivalry and delusions of happiness.
Happiness is one of the hardest films to watch but surprisingly without ever showing anything graphic. Practically every taboo subject is covered with verbally graphic conversations about sex (of all unimaginable kinds), dreams about murder, real murder, pedophilia, rape, depression, passion, self-loathing, boredom, and happiness. But what is happiness?
The film opens with one of the most iconic scenes- a sad and angry breakup between Jane Adams and Jon Lovitz, followed by the title of the film, Happiness- setting a tone of humorous mockery and wry melancholy. From there we meet the rest of the characters through vignettes of behind-the-door scenes of not-so-average American suburbia. The façade these people portray to the public is stripped away revealing multiple stories that are a shock to the senses and uncomfortable to the core. Every scene is so wrong on so many levels and yet sheer brilliance and complete awkwardness at the same time, like a train wreck you can’t avert your eyes from. Todd Solondz has a real knack for leaving his viewers with an inescapable icky feeling and this is one film you will NEVER forget.
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