Movie Review By Monica Sullivan
Our esteemed colleague Andrea Chase is the most intrepid of film reviewers. However early the hour, however great the distance,. however obscure the theme, however long the movie, Andrea Chase observes all and sundry, with a sharp and perceptive eye, discovering hidden treasure in films which seem to bury it. After watching 90m. of "Happiness" on the Variety Club screening room floor, Andrea wisely announced that she'd had it and left. I stuck it out for the remaining 45m. and staggered out into the sunshine, desperate for fresh air, for "Buffy, The Vampire Slayer" and for "Felicity." It is reassuring for me to think about Andrea Chase instead of Todd Solondz' "Happiness", because she is real and his latest critical triumph is a sham. It is comforting for me to consider the virtues of Buffy and Felicity, because they represent goodness and strength in a murky, wimpy world.
Apparently it is a source of ecstasy for most international critics to look down on New Jersey as the cesspool of the universe. I suspect that most have never been there. They are not like and do not know anyone like the people in "Happiness", therefore all is well and good on our planet. "Happiness" is about a pedophiliac psychiatrist who arouses himself with teen beefcake magazines, drugs and sodomizes his young son's classmate, and then sodomizes yet another classmate before law enforcement authorities finally catch on. It's about a large woman who cuts her doorman into little pieces and freezes them after he rapes her. It's about a sexual stalker who makes calls to fantasy objects who then lose their allure for him when he actually approaches them. It's about a lonely and very bad songwriter wracked with guilt after she dumps a loser who only succeeds at killing himself and blaming her. After that, a Russian thief looks like an ever-so tempting alternative.
There was a core of sweetness to "Welcome To The Dollhouse." Solondz genuinely liked some, if not all, of the characters in "Dollhouse", and there was a moral compass on the margins of the story. However bizarre the worlds of, say, David Lynch and John Waters, their films are not long sociopathic rants. There is good and evil in the world and we never forget the difference. Solondz was quoted in Newsweek as saying, "If the audience looks at "Happiness" and says they're freaks, I've failed." There is nothing but horror in "Happiness" and eventually, if you don't walk out, you immunize yourself to 135 minutes of ugly despair. For expatriates who detest American culture, "Happiness" may be a comedy, but for me, the screening room became a virtual torture chamber, with some of the cruelest father-son dialogues ever filmed, including a harsh nine-word exchange I hope I can forget someday. Don't feel guilty if you walk away from "Happiness": I wish I had.
© 1998 - Monica Sullivan - Air Date: 10/14/98
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