Happiness/A-, B+

Trimark/1998/139m/WS 1.85

     There so many terrific elements to Happiness. Yet, it remains uncomfortable to view because of the odious nature of the one of the dominent story threads. The black comedy succeeds with surprising alacrity.          
      Writer/Director Todd Solondz who exhibited an unusual life point of view in Welcome to the Doll House, his previous feature film, actually ups the stakes with this pastiche of suburban values clashing with the painful realities of individuals dealing with their own  idiosyncrasies. 

Your typical family dinner, right.

     The Jordan sisters are at the center of Solondz's world. Joy can't seem to settle anything in her life. Trish appears the most normal sister living a quiet suburban lifestyle married to psychiatrist Bill, but under the surface explosive desire is about to upend their lives. Helen Jordan is a successful author. Parents Lenny and Mona Jordan are living out their senior years in sunny Florida, still dealing with the dysfunctional elements of their lives. Throw in Allen, an overweight, lonely patient of Bill's obsessed with Helen, Vlad, a Russian cab driver, and Diane, a hungry divorcee, and the Solondz stew comes to a singing boil. 
    Despite the complex story-line, director Solondz keeps a tight reign on the project. Pacing between the intertwined fragments is well balanced into a thoroughly engrossing structure. 
    It's an excellent ensemble cast. Dylan Baker is hauntingly pathetic as Bill. Phillip Seymour Hoffman brings characteristic discomfort to Allen. Louise Lasser and Ben Gazzara are hilarious as the senior Jordans. 
     An excellent DVD transfer reveals all the details of the Solondz world with garish accuracy.  Solondz shot Happiness is bright hues and strong defining colors. It's all here on the DVD. The video is very sharp. You can look into the eyes of the characters and begin to understand on a deeper plane. There are no evident artifacts whether from enhancement or the limitations of the NTSC system. Dolby Digital 2.0 surround is adequate.


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