Director Todd Solondz shook up the indie world with 1995’s Welcome to the Dollhouse. In one way or another, Solondz has been making similar movies ever since. It’s possible to regard Solondz as a true American miserablist, and his movies — though tempered with dark humor — inflict all manner of pain on their middle-class characters. Solondz’s latest — Life During Wartime — catches up with characters from 1998’s Happiness, which (among other things) took aim at the darkest underside of suburban living.
For 27 years, Robert Denerstein was the film critic at The Rocky Mountain News. Read more of Robert's reviews at Denerstein Unleashed.
In the new movie, the characters from Happiness are transported into the present, although they’re not played by actors from the first installment. Ciaran Hinds, for example, replaces Dylan Baker, as a pedophile father. Hinds’ Bill is being released from prison during the movie’s grim opening sequence. Life During Wartime, a middling helping of Solondz, alternates uneasy humor and unrelieved helpings of anguish. This time, though, the tug of yearning (notably for absent fathers) doesn’t feel especially strong. I’m not sure Life During Wartime takes us any place that Solondz hasn’t been before; it seems more variation on a theme than fresh discovery. I predict a quick exit from art-house venues across the nation.