Saturday, January 30, 2010

Top 100 movies of the '90s: #10

10. Happiness, 1998
Dir: Todd Solondz
Cast: Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Jon Lovitz

Even if Jon Lovitz never really gets another role like he got in this movie, at least nothing can change the fact that his presence and acting in the beginning of this film pretty much set the tone and made you realize how this film is gonna pan out. How is it gonna pan out? We have no goddamned clue. ...Exactly.

Happiness is a film that almost takes pride in its unpredictability. Some of the scenes seem to go into directions you don't WANT them to go into. And by the time they get there, you can't bare to watch any further, but you have to anyway. It's almost like a horror film in the sense that the subject matter and what it leads to is just terrifying in itself. Just when you think we're going to have a nice, innocent scene... it turns ugly in almost an instant, but in a way that is darkly funny and clever.

Don't get me wrong, Jon Lovitz's performance in the beginning of this film, his speech, doesn't exactly steal the movie. It's debatable on who exactly stole this movie. You can make the conclusion that Dylan Baker's character stole the film because of the fact that the things his character does are so beyond messed up that it was inevitable that this film would cause controversy. And even though Happiness does deal with the issue of pedophilia, I feel that Todd Solondz tackles this subject the best way he possibly can. He doesn't get graphic, and yet he does get graphic. He doesn't show you what happens, but the "subtle" hints don't exactly make you feel better for not seeing them. Dylan Baker's character Bill Maplewood is exactly that: a pedophile. He finds himself trapped in this sick, perverse mind that carries the urge to do these rotten things to little boys. The perfectly written and acted scenes between him and his son cause for some very awkward moments and some very heartbreaking moments. The moment where he has to admit to his son that he is indeed a pedophile is probably one of the most powerful scenes of dialogue I've ever seen in film. Just because there's so much to take from it, there's this certain air of honesty going into it. Todd Solondz, the writer/director of this movie, isn't making a sympathetic portrayal of a pedophile. He's showing that they can act and be as human as anyone else and still have a sick, disgusting mind that allows them to do those terrible acts. So while we are completely turned off and perhaps even terrified of Bill Maplewood, we still feel for the situation that is made between him and his son when he has to tell his son what he is and what it means. His son is still at a young age and may not fully grasp what pedophilia can fully entail, but he does understand that it is something that is terrible and thus he cries.

Phew. And that's only a portion of the story in this movie. Todd Solondz is known for pushing the envelope in his films as he's done so in Welcome to the Dollhouse and Palindromes. Some people may be turned off by his material, and I do wonder sometimes... not wondering if he can go further, but wondering if he should go as far as he's going. The redeeming factor is that Solondz can write such nasty details about a character and yet put it in a context that makes sense.

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