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cast: Lara Flynn Boyle, Jane Adams, Cynthia Stevenson, Philip Seymour Hoffman, and Dylan Baker

writer and director: Todd Solondz

134 minutes (18) 1998
EV VHS retail

RATING: 9/10
reviewed by Gary Couzens
Happiness is the story of three sisters, Helen (Lara Flynn Boyle), Joy (Jane Adams), and Trish (Cynthia Stevenson). Joy is perennially unlucky in love, Helen is bothered by an obscene phone caller, Allen (Philip Seymour Hoffman), and Trish's husband Bill (Dylan Baker) has a dark secret of his own. Much of the controversy attached to this film is due to the subplot dealing with Bill, who is a paedophile. This subplot (which doesn't take up a great deal of time in a lengthy film) is a serious attempt to get into the mind of a man who is deeply sick, but also knows it and can't control himself. The scenes of child abuse are off-screen, and the film doesn't gloss over the enormity of his actions. However, in dealing with this subject at all, Solondz (not to forget actor Dylan Baker) proves himself a filmmaker willing to take considerable risks. There are moments when he seems to be looking down on his characters, but they retain our sympathy, particularly Joy, eternally optimistic despite life dumping on her from a great height. Compelling, brilliantly acted and often blackly funny, Happiness is certainly not for everyone: children and those unable to cope with its uncomfortable subject matter (which as well as paedophilia and obscene phone calls includes scenes of masturbation as well) should steer well clear. But those who can take it are in for a treat: this is one of the finest films to come out of America in the last few years.

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