Happiness takes this dark and disturbing trend farther than any other indie film I have seen

Many independent films deal with darker subjects than would normally be found in studio releases. This is often the appeal of these indies. Happiness takes this dark and disturbing trend farther than any other indie film I have seen.

This dark tale is concerned primarily with three sisters and the people in their lives. There is Joy (Jane Adams) the youngest sister. Her two older siblings pity her because she seems to drift through life. They are sure that this is why she is unable to find the happiness they feel that they themselves posses. Joy is unlucky in love, life and career.

The first scene in Happiness is her breaking up with her boyfriend played by Jon Lovitz. The middle sister, Helen played by Laura Flynn Boyle, is a successful novelist. Her love life is a string of meaningless affairs. In fact, she is unable to recall who she slept with the night before. Still, she is sure she is happy. Her desperation shows when she calls back an obscene phone caller (Boogie Night’s Philip Seymour Hoffman). Helen is yearning for something different, something exciting and hopes to find it with the heavy breather on the other end of her phone. Then there is the oldest sister, Trish (Cynthia Stevenson). Married to a shrink with three children this housewife feels she also has it all. What lies under the surface of her perfect life is a marriage that is on impulse alone. Her husband, Bill (Dylan Baker) is a closet pedophile that buys magazines of young pre-teenage boys, the type aimed at pre-teen girls, and masturbates in the parking lot of the store. The friends of his 11-year-old son fascinate him.

Some of the most disturbing scenes are talks about sex between him and his son, especially after he is accused of molesting two of the boy’s friends. Add to this the parents of the sisters played by Ben Gazzara and Louise Lasser in the middle of an all too amiable divorce. The story also follows the obscene caller and his overweight, lonely neighbor (Camryn Manheim) adds to the tapestry of Happiness.

The acting in Happiness is superb. The perverted story aside the performances are so human that you watch because you find yourself actually interested in these characters. Jane Adams shines in her role as Joy. You feel for her since each of us can identify with the isolation she feels, the overwhelming feeling of alone every person has had to deal with at some point in life. Stevenson and Boyle are incredible as the sisters. Sure of their own happiness when speaking to each other yet the doubts are just below the surface. The actors in Happiness present multi-dimensional characters that are so human that you feel you know them. While he characters seem to drift in and out of the scenes this is so reminiscent of life you can identify with the most disturbed character.

Director Todd Solondz is best known for his indie classic, Welcome to the Dollhouse, about an 11 year old girl trying to cope with the awkward age between the teens and childhood. He brings Happiness to life with a pace that moves like a lazy river, it gets you there slowly but offers a lot to see along the way. Happiness is long, 2:20, but you’ll find yourself watching it despite your revolt of what you are watching. Each scene is well crafted by lighting, design and movement. Solondz shows a talent rare today if only he could lighten up just a little bit.

The Happiness disc is typical of a release by Paramount, plain vanilla. A director’s commentary would have been fantastic but there are no extras to speak of. The video transfer is flawless and the Dolby 2.0 surround sound is acceptable. Little would have been added to remix this film to 5.1. For indie collectors or the viewer with a more eclectic taste this is worth owning.

Review by Doug MacLean of hometheaterinfo.com

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