Happiness (1998 film)
Independent Films, Film Profiles
Happiness is a 1998 black comedy-drama film written and directed by Todd Solondz, that portrays the lives of three sisters, their families and those around them.The film was awarded the FIPRESCI Prize at the 1998 Cannes Film Festival for "its bold tracking of controversial contemporary themes, richly-layered subtext, and remarkable fluidity of visual style," and the cast received the National Board of Review award for best ensemble performance. One of the film's stars, Philip Seymour Hoffman, went to win an Oscar in 2005 for his work in Capote, and garnered a nomination in 2007 for his work in Charlie Wilson's War.Helen Jordan (Lara Flynn Boyle), the youngest sister, is a successful author who is adored and envied by everyone she knows, and can have any man she wants. Her charmed life leaves her ultimately unfulfilled, and she vainly despairs that people only love her for her mystique and that no one wants her for herself, and that the praise regularly heaped upon her is undeserved. She is fascinated by a neighbor (Philip Seymour Hoffman) who makes obscene phone calls to her apartment and tries to seek out a relationship with her. Meanwhile, the neighbor, Allen, sinks deeper into depression as Helen's rejection of him ruins his fantasies, and realizes that a woman who truly cares for him (Camryn Manheim) has been right under his nose all along.Trish (Cynthia Stevenson), the middle sister, is an upper middle class housewife happily married to psychiatrist Bill Maplewood (Dylan Baker) and has three children. Unbeknownst to Trish, however, Bill is a deeply troubled pedophile. He develops an obsession for 11-year-old Johnny Grasso (Evan Silverberg), a classmate of his son Billy (Rufus Read). When Johnny comes for a sleepover, Maplewood drugs Johnny as well as his own family and then sodomizes Johnny while he is unconscious. Later, he learns that another boy, Ronald Farber, is home alone while his parents are away in Europe. Under the guise of attending a PTA meeting, Maplewood drives to Farber's house and, we assume, rapes him. It should be noted that in both cases the act of pederasty is implicitly suggested and not shown.After Johnny is taken to the hospital and found to have been sexually abused, the police arrive at the Maplewood residence to talk about Johnny Grasso. After alerting his wife to the police presence, Bill begins by asking the two detectives "So you wanted to talk about Ronald Farber?" The two detectives, looking puzzled, say nothing. Bill then stammers, "I mean, Johnny Grasso." Out on bail, he admits to his son that he raped the boys, that he enjoyed it, and that he would do it again. When his son asks, "Would you ever do it to me?," Bill tearfully answers, "No. I'd jerk off instead."Joy (Jane Adams), the eldest sister and struggling musician, is seen by her family as overly sensitive and lacking direction. She works in telephone sales, but leaves to do something more fulfilling: teaching at a refugee education center. Her students call her a scab, because their original teacher was striking, and she begins to feel empty in that job too. Joy is also constantly let down in her personal life. After a rejected suitor, Andy (Jon Lovitz), calls her shallow at the beginning of the film and then goes on to kill himself, Helen tries to set her up with other men. Expecting to hear from a suitor, she instead gets an obscene call from Allen. Later one of her Russian students, Vladimir (Jared Harris), offers her a ride in his taxi and they end up going inside together. He seduces her, and she seems to feel happy for the first time in the movie. In the coming days, however, Joy realizes Vlad was using her and that he may be married. After being attacked by his wife and lending him $500, she is back to being alone.Finally, the sisters' parents, Mona (Louise Lasser) and Lenny (Ben Gazzara) are separating after 40 years of marriage. Lenny is bored with his marriage, but does not want to start another relationship; he simply "wants to be alone." As Mona copes with being single during her twilight years, Lenny tries to rekindle his enthusiasm for life by having an affair with a neighbor. It is no use, however, as Lenny eventually finds that he has become incapable of emotion. The only person who seems happy at the end is Billy, who throughout the movie attempts to make himself ejaculate and finally succeeds.
Year of Production: 1998
Length: 134 min.
Country: United States
- Todd Solondz
- David Linde, James Schamus
- Jane Adams, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Jon Lovitz, Dylan Baker, Lara Flynn Boyle, Justin Elvin, Cynthia Stevenson, Lila Glantzman-Leib, Gerry Becker, Rufus Read, Louise Lasser, Ben Gazzara, Camryn Manheim, Arthur J. Nascarella, Molly Shannon, Ann Harada, Douglas McGrath