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"HAPPINESS"
(1998) (Jane Adams, Dylan Baker) (Not Rated)

Alcohol/
Drugs
Blood/Gore Disrespectful/
Bad Attitude
Frightening/
Tense Scenes
Guns/
Weapons
Moderate Moderate Extreme Mild Moderate
Imitative
Behavior
Jump
Scenes
Music
(Scary/Tense)
Music
(Inappropriate)
Profanity
Mild None None None Extreme
Sex/
Nudity
Smoking Tense Family
Scenes
Topics To
Talk About
Violence
Extreme Mild Moderate Moderate Extreme


QUICK TAKE:
Drama: Three sisters, along with others in their lives, try to find happiness in their world and in their own romantic lives.
PLOT:
Thirty-year-old Joy Jordan (JANE ADAMS) is a would-be songwriter who spends her days working as a telephone sales operator and her evenings fretting over breaking up with her latest boyfriend. With her parents, Mona (LOUISE LASSER) and Lenny (BEN GAZZARA), having retired to Florida -- where a neighbor, Diane (ELIZABETH ASHLEY) has become something of a catalyst for a pending divorce -- Joy lives by herself in her childhood New Jersey home.

This doesn't sit well with either of her two sisters. Helen (LARA FLYNN BOYLE), a glamorous and successful author, pities her sister but secretly worries that she herself is nothing more than a hack. Consequently, she begins to unknowingly court her next door neighbor, Allen (PHILLIP SEYMOUR HOFFMAN), a lonely man who's taken to anonymously making obscene phone calls to her. Too shy to confront Helen about his secret longings for her, he must contend with the same from another neighbor, Kristina (CAMRYN MANHEIM), who obviously longs for him.

Meanwhile, Joy's other sister, Trish (CYNTHIA STEVENSON), a happily married housewife, shows more genuine concern toward her plight. Nonetheless, she's unaware of her own problem sitting right under her nose. It turns out her therapist husband, Bill (DYLAN BAKER), a seemingly decent and caring man, is secretly a predatory, homosexual pedofile, whose sickness has been spurred by awkward, sexually related questions from his eleven-year-old son, Billy (RUFUS READ).

As Trish's world comes undone after allegations arise regarding Bill and the neighborhood kids, Helen continues her phone fling with Allen, who must contend with Kristina, and Joy starts seeing Vlad (JARED HARRIS), a Russian immigrant and thief, all of them try to make sense of their lives and romances.

WILL KIDS WANT TO SEE IT?
Perhaps, but the fact that film is not rated will prevent many theaters from showing it, let alone letting in kids under eighteen years of age.
WHY THE MPAA RATED IT: Not Rated
Although the film is not rated (usually meaning no one under eighteen can get in), the film would qualify as a hard R for profanity, strong sexual content including suggested pedophilia, and fatal violence via a fantasized scene.
CAST AS ROLE MODELS:
  • DYLAN BAKER plays the loving and caring father who also happens to be a homosexual pedophile.
  • PHILLIP SEYMOUR HOFFMAN plays a nerdy computer specialist who essentially stalks his neighbor over the phone and makes sexually obscene calls to her.
  • CYNTHIA STEVENSON plays a chirpy mother and homemaker who finally moves her and the kids out once she learns of her husband's pedophile sickness.
  • LARA FLYNN BOYLE plays a spiteful, but ultimately insecure woman.
  • CAMRYN MANHEIM plays Allen's overweight neighbor who's been keeping a murderously dark secret under wraps.
  • CAST, CREW, & TECHNICAL INFO

    HOW OTHERS RATED THIS MOVIE


    OUR TAKE: 6.5 out of 10
    Strongly positioned to be the most controversial film of the year, the fall release of "Happiness" should polarize moviegoers into distinctly opposite camps. Some will find absolutely nothing redeeming or interesting in this story about pedophilia, masturbation and similar unsavory topics, while others will find it a compelling -- albeit disturbing -- expose about perversion lurking about underneath everyday normalcy.

    Most critics will probably fall somewhere in between, torn between the strong performances and intriguing premise, while trying to stomach the more distasteful and disturbing elements occurring throughout the film. This reviewer is no exception as this is the sort of film that's extremely difficult to review.

    Something of a meeting of nearly any typical Woody Allen film dealing with adult loneliness and the recent, sexually charged and often controversial material found in the works of relative newcomer Neil LaBute (such as "In The Company of Men" and "Your Friends and Neighbors"), Todd Solondz's "Happiness" will inspire anything but what the title suggests.

    That's not to say that it's a bad film in an artistic sense, but that its shocking and often revolting material will leave most every viewer with more of disturbed grimace rather than a placated grin on their face once the theater lights come up.

    Following his critically lauded sophomore feature, "Welcome to the Dollhouse," writer/director Solondz has seemingly allowed his material to mature and progress in a natural fashion from that earlier effort. While "Dollhouse" dealt with the horrors of being an outcast in the throes of puberty, this one deals with thirty-something angst, loneliness, and perversion. Don't be surprised to see his next two films cover middle-aged crises and life as a senior citizen respectively.

    While most everyone who sees this film will leave with what is decidedly a bad taste in their mouths -- so bad, in fact, that Universal opted not to release the film under its own banner -- the more time and distance spent away from the film and you begin to realize just how powerful it really is.

    Despite what some may say about the film, instead of glorifying or alternately denouncing the perversions of seemingly normal people, Solondz takes something more of an objective look at such surprising, revealing and decidedly disturbing vices.

    Emitting something approaching the feel of a documentary (sans any narration) and focusing on a diverse group of people and their stories related via family or occupational ties, the film isn't so much disturbing in showing that these sorts of things may be going on in one's neighborhood. Instead, it's that such apparently innocuous people may be the ones carrying out such secret and often perverted lives.

    The most intriguing character -- who will also draw the most fire and praise from the film's detractors and admirers -- is that of Bill, the "Ward Cleaver" type of dad who's a seemingly loving husband, is good with the kids, and apparently a decent man overall. It doesn't take Solondz long to shatter that myth, however, as we soon see Bill's terrorist-like fantasy and then him pleasuring himself via a teen magazine.

    Not surprisingly, things quickly do downhill from there, eventually leading to a morbidly droll pedophiliac "hunt" to the final, and extremely uncomfortable and confrontational father/son discussion regarding the old man's sickness that's as hard, but simultaneously compelling to watch as a bad car wreck.

    Despite not wanting to see what will happen and what will be said, you can't help yourself for wanting and, more importantly, needing to watch. Quite simply, all of that stems from the horrific notion that such people could be living on your block or sitting next to you in the movie theater, and you'd never know.

    Inhabiting that character is actor Dylan Baker ("Disclosure," "Radioland Murders") who has the unenviable task of playing that perpetually "walking on eggshells" role. Yet where many might have gone too far in playing him as a monster, and others could have "ruined" the role by taking a more subtle approach, Baker hits the mark just right.

    Not quite as disturbing, but still rather perverted is Phillip Seymour Hoffman ("Twister," "Last Stop, Wonderland") as the lonely computer nerd who loses his anonymous sexual aggression once the object of his obscene phone calls turns the tables on him. With the appropriate nervous ticks, sweatiness, and overall geeky demeanor, Hoffman is completely believable and perfect for the role.

    As are Jane Adams ("Kansas City," "Father of the Bride Part II") and Cynthia Stevenson ("Air Bud: Golden Receiver," "Home For the Holidays") as the polar opposite sisterly characters. Supporting performances are also good from many in the cast, but some, like Lara Flynn Boyle ("Afterglow," TV's "The Practice") simply aren't given much with which to work. Part of that lies in the fact that there are just too many characters.

    While the quantity of those characters constantly keeps things interesting, the sheer number of them and their individual and marginally connected subplots partially diffuse their individual stories since only a certain amount of time can't be spent on each. Since, a complete exposť on each character would have added too much time to the already lengthy film, such characters and their stories can only serve to complement the central stories -- ones you won't soon forget.

    To diffuse the thematically disturbing material, Solondz has tried to interject some laughs, but some of his efforts at humor -- most of which are extremely dry and not overly plentiful -- may just offend as much as the straight drama.

    Even so, and despite the film's attempts at eliciting laughs via sophomoric humor (notably the semen shots), little of it's of the knee-slapping, eye-tearing variety. Although most of it bears similarities to this past summer's "There's Something About Mary," it doesn't have that "wink, wink, nudge, nudge" locker room feel to guiltily promote those big belly laughs.

    The film, however, won't be remembered for such "lighter" moments. As equally compelling as it is disturbing, the film and its initially subtle performances, that soon unravel into depravity and outrageousness, will stick with you long after seeing them. While certainly not perfect and definitely not for all audiences, the film only further strengthens Solondz's place among the new crop of influential filmmakers working today. We give "Happiness" a 6.5 out of 10.

    OUR WORD TO PARENTS:
    Despite the film opening without a rating from the MPAA (a move that usually means theaters won't allow anyone under eighteen to see it, if they carry the film at all), some kids may hear the buzz about it and try to get in (or rent it once it's on video). Thus, here's a quick look at its content.

    The film is full of sexually related material. Some of that revolves around a young boy wishing to experience his first orgasm and asking his father (who turns out to be a pedophile) about all of that (and includes two scenes showing ejaculate), while other parts involve obscene phone calls as well as actual physical activity (with movement, sounds, and nudity).

    Profanity is extreme with 20+ "f" words and an assortment of others, while a brief fantasy/daydream shows a character mowing down people in a park with an assault rifle. Some implied domestic abuse occurs, and a character essentially stalks another (mostly by making those obscene phone calls).

    Most viewers, however, will be the most uncomfortable with the whole issue of the "Ward Cleaver" type father who turns out to be a predatory homosexual pedophile who lulls kids into complacency, drugs them (in one scene) and then rapes them (not seen).

    Considering all of that and the additional material found in other categories, we strongly suggest you take a closer look at what's been listed should you or someone in your home wish to see this film.


    ALCOHOL OR DRUG USE
  • Mona takes some Valium.
  • People have drinks in a restaurant, including Trish and Helen.
  • Bill uses some sort of sedative to knock out his family and a visiting friend so that he can have sex with that boy.
  • Allen drives while drinking liquor straight from a bottle (in a brown paper bag). Later, he appears very intoxicated from this (and the bottle is nearly empty).
  • A woman makes Lenny a gin and tonic.
  • People have drinks in a bar.
  • There's some talk about a teacher being a drug addict, but we never see this person nor any activity.
  • The sisters and their parents have wine with a meal.
  • BLOOD/GORE
  • Many victims are bloody after they're shot and killed/wounded in a daydream/fantasy.
  • We see a recent suicide victim (but other than being dead, there's no blood or gore).
  • We see a neighbor boy throw up on the kitchen table.
  • We hear Allen throwing up from drinking too much.
  • We see Vlad's lover with a black eye and bloody lip, suggesting that he's beaten her.
  • The boy that Bill raped (not seen and while the boy was sedated) comments "There's blood in my B.M." but we don't see any of that.
  • In two separate scenes we see ejaculatory material, including one where the family dog licks it up (and then licks a woman's face).
  • DISRESPECTFUL/BAD ATTITUDE
  • Obviously, Bill has both for being a child molester.
  • Allen has both for continuing to call Helen (and essentially stalking her).
  • Joy's sisters, especially Helen, have differing amounts of condescending attitudes toward her.
  • After telling Bill that he thinks his own 11-year-old son is a "fag," a man then says, "What do you think would happen if I got him a professional...hooker? Who could teach him things...break him in."
  • Some will see Helen lamenting over her inexperience of writing a poem about rape (where she states, "If only I had been raped as a child...") as having both.
  • We learn that Vlad is a thief and he steals several things from Joy's home.
  • Vlad leaves right after having sex with Joy, and we later learn that there's another woman in his life (whom we later see with a black eye and bloody lip -- suggesting that he's beaten her).
  • Moments after having had sex with and kissing a man, the woman grabs his head, twists it, and breaks his neck (all because she despises sex). She then comments that she chopped up his body and has slowly been disposing of it.
  • FRIGHTENING SCENES
  • The whole concept of Bill being a child molester will obviously be unsettling to many viewers, and while it's not initially positive that's what he's doing, early scenes of him trying to sedate a boy are also unnerving.
  • GUNS/WEAPONS
  • Assault rifle: Used to shoot and kill many people in a daydream/fantasy.
  • IMITATIVE BEHAVIOR
  • Phrases: "Lard ass," "Bastard," "Schmuck," "Jerks," "Losers," "Fag" and 'Jerk off" (masturbate).
  • Bill sedates both his family and a visiting boy so that he can molest/rape that boy.
  • Allen drinks and drives.
  • Allen makes obscene phone calls to women.
  • JUMP SCENES
  • None.
  • MUSIC (SCARY/TENSE)
  • None.
  • MUSIC (INAPPROPRIATE)
  • None.
  • PROFANITY
  • At least 23 "f" words (8 used sexually), 5 "s" words, 1 slang term each for male and female genitals ("d*ck" and "p*ssy"), 2 asses (1 used with "hole"), 1 hell, 1 crap, and 3 uses of "Oh God," and 1 use each of "God" and "Oh my God" as exclamations.
  • SEX/NUDITY
  • Talking to his psychiatrist about Helen, Allen says, "Whenever I see her, I want to undress her. I want to tie her up. I want to pump her. Pump, pump, pump. Till she screams bloody murder. Then I want to lick her ass and pump her even more...so hard that my d*ck shoots right through her, and my come squirts out of her mouth..."
  • Later trying to find her telephone number, Allen says, "I'll f*ck you so hard it will be coming out of your ears..."
  • For those concerned with such matters, we briefly see a shot of two men walking through a park holding hands.
  • Bill tells his psychiatrist that there's no sex in his marriage and that neither of them are interested.
  • On his way home from work, Bill stops and buys a teen magazine (in the vein of "Tiger Beat"), gets into the backseat of his car, unzips his pants, and masturbates to the magazine (we see a little movement and see his facial expression as he finishes, but don't see any nudity).
  • Bill's eleven-year-old son, Billy, approaches him and asks, "What does 'come' mean?" Bill then comments on Billy's awareness of his penis getting erect and then says, "Sometimes a milky, sticky substance shoots out." He then asks his son, "Have you ever come?" Billy says that he has, but his dad knows he's lying, and the boy eventually comments that everyone else in his class already has and that he wants to as well. Bill responds, "That's okay, have you tried playing with yourself?" Billy says, "A little" and Bill asks, "How did it feel?" His son then replies that he doesn't know what to do, and Bill asks, "Do you want me to show you?" but Billy declines that offer.
  • Still looking for Helen, Allen calls Joy (since they have the same last name) and she thinks it's someone else. He then asks what she's wearing, and then what she's wearing under her jeans. Then, while apparently masturbating, he asks her, "Are you wet? Is your p*ssy all wet?" She hangs up the phone and we then see him climax and see some ejaculate hit the wall. He then scoops it up with a postcard that he then plasters to the wall with the fluid.
  • Helen complains to Trish that despite all of the good looking men and "great sex" in her life, she's not happy.
  • After telling Bill that he thinks his own 11-year-old son is a "fag," a man then says, "What do you think would happen if I got him a professional...hooker? Who could teach him things...break him in."
  • After raping a visiting boy (not seen), we see Bill and Trish later in bed together and she comments "It felt like we..." and she then gets the impression that they had sex (they may have) but doesn't remember any of it.
  • Billy asks his father, "Do you know how many inches your penis is?" Bill responds that he's never measured. Billy then comments that a fellow student claims his is eleven inches long. Bill replies "It's not length that matters, it's width." The boy asks why, and Bill states "Things get a bit more tense." Moments later, Bill asks Billy if he wants him to measure his penis, but the boy declines the offer.
  • We see part of several women's bare butts as they walk by in high cut bathing suits.
  • Allen calls Helen again and repeats,"I'll f*ck you so hard it will be coming out of your ears..." She then calls him back, he asks what she wants, and she says, "I want you to f*ck me."
  • We see the silhouetted image (through a window) of a man having sex with a woman from behind her (that includes movement and sounds). We then see that Allen is looking through some sort of porno magazine, but due to the angle, we can't readily see the pictures inside it.
  • Wondering why Joy isn't married, Vlad asks if she's a lesbian. When she replies that she isn't, he says that he likes lesbians.
  • We see Vlad and Joy having sex with him on top of her and between her legs (with movement, heavy breathing, related sounds and only brief glimpses of her bare breasts). After he climaxes and gets up to leave, we see full views of her bare breasts.
  • Lenny starts making out with a woman, gets on top of her, and pulls down her robe and kisses her bare breast. He then unzips his pants and the two have sex with movement and sounds (but no other nudity).
  • Telling Allen about her contact with another man, Kristina says, "The next thing you know, he was inside me, pounding away." Later she comments that she hates sex and says, "You know, someone all over, and inside of me."
  • Bill eventually confesses to Billy about raping the boys, and comments about starting by unzipping himself. Initially confused, Billy asks if he masturbated and Bill responds "No, we made love...I f*cked them." Very disturbed by all of this, Billy then asks, "What was it like?" Bill says "It was...great." Billy asks, "Would you do it again?" Bill replies that he would. With both now crying, Billy asks his father, "Would you ever f*ck me?" and Bill replies, "No...I'd jerk off instead."
  • We see Billy watching a woman wearing a skimpy bikini (that shows lots of cleavage and most of her bare butt as she turns over) and then see that Billy is masturbating (not visibly seen, but there's no doubt about what he's doing). We then see some ejaculate running down a balcony railing that the family dog then laps up and moments later licks Trish's face. Billy then walks into the dining room and tells everyone (his mom, aunts and grandparents), "I came."
  • SMOKING
  • Helen smokes a few times, as does Vlad, and a woman with Lenny and some people in a bar also smoke.
  • Upon being given an antique reproduction ashtray, Joy says that it almost makes her want to learn how to smoke.
  • TENSE FAMILY SCENES
  • The sisters learn that their parents are going to split up, and we also see several scenes between Mona and Lenny dealing with that.
  • Trish and her kids (especially Billy) must deal with Bill being a pedophile.
  • TOPICS TO TALK ABOUT
  • Pedophilia and child molestation.
  • Obsession with others, including making obscene phone calls.
  • Suicide (a minor character does this off screen).
  • That not every normal person has some dark or perverted secret they're harboring.
  • VIOLENCE
  • In a daydream/fantasy being told to his psychiatrist, Bill shoots and kills many people with an assault rifle.
  • Kristina drops by Allen's and informs him that the doorman was bludgeoned to death and that his penis was cut off (we later learn that both aren't true).
  • We learn that Joy's former boyfriend has committed suicide.
  • Some teachers on strike throw what may be lettuce (or something similar) at her as she crosses their picket line.
  • Although not seen, Bill rapes a visiting 11-year-old boy after sedating him and the rest of his own family. It's later implied that he rapes another boy.
  • A woman spits at Joy, grabs her by the hair, and wrestles her to the ground.
  • Moments after having had sex with and kissing a man, the woman grabs his head, twists it, and breaks his neck. She then comments that she chopped up his body and has slowly been disposing of it.
  • We see Vlad's lover with a black eye and bloody lip, suggesting that he's beaten her.



  • Reviewed October 13, 1998

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