Happiness, where are you? I’ve searched so long for you…

So, I decided to watch this film called Happiness, by Todd Solondz, thinking it would be an exploration of what makes certain people happy. In some vein, I was right, but don’t be confused into thinking the characters in this film are happy; it’s more about the characters searching for happiness and finding none. The film is also advertised as a dark comedy-drama, so aside from the “dark” adjective I care-freely put this one in, expecting a thoughtful and bleakly funny film. No. Just, just… no. This is the most uncomfortable so-called comedy I’ve ever had to sit through. It does just about everything possible to make you squirm, and in my case, it succeeded immeasurably. I watched Bridesmaids a little while back, and said it desperately tried to capture the humor of the awkward moment. Well, as stupid as it sounds, I hadn’t seen Happiness yet, and had no idea what was in store. All the humor of the moment is gone, and just awkwardness remains. Pure, unadulterated, concentrated awkwardness. The only laughter you’ll be uttering will be to ease the unpleasant tension.

Here’s just a laundry list of the various scenes that made me uncomfortable or awkward while I was watching this film, as written while I was watching it: the film’s opening scene (probably the harshest breakup scene I’ve ever witnessed). A depressed and self-proclaimed boring loner sharing the most uncomfortable elevator ride in all of cinema. A psychiatrist dad telling his son about ejaculation in a manner filled with hope and elation. The depressed loner calling one of the main characters to jerk off to talking with her on the phone, complete with “money shot”. The same father politely and candidly answering his son’s questions about his and the son’s classmates’ penis length. A mother character being frankly told that being completely alone, at her age, is just fine, before she pretty much explodes into tears. Old people sex. The confession of an obese woman to her being raped, before her murdering and chopping up her assailant. The culmination of the loner sexually calling his neighbor before finally meeting her face-to-face. The son of the pedophile father drawing out his father’s heinous confession (with the father confessing that he enjoyed it and that he’d do it again) before asking him point blank if he would rape him. And all throughout, the music couldn’t have been more upbeat and jovial. By the end there, I had grown mostly accustomed to the film, so it wasn’t as bad as the early parts, but still, the film was perfectly designed to make me feel uncomfortable, and it succeeded in just about every way.

Now, all that being said, I perversely didn’t find this to be a bad film. Quite the contrary, it was so successful at creeping me the heck out because it was so well made. The camerawork was precise and exacting, and always what it should be; the script was just about perfectly done, and the acting from everyone really held everything all together. It was just the content that made me cringe; it wasn’t just the sexual aspect, it was damn near every scene that reinforced the idea that each main character featured in that scene was searching, grasping desperately for happiness, but ultimately being pulled back down to their depressing, lonely reality. It wasn’t a feel good movie at all, is what I’m saying; if this and a truly feel good movie were to meet or collide, I’d expect there to be a matter/anti-matter annihilation. Fellow 1001 blogger Squish has a list of “caution films” that people should think twice, and think hard, before delving into them, so that they are fully prepared for the experience. If I had such a list as well, Happiness would probably top it, at least as far as I’ve gotten. Know what you’re getting into with this one, and tread softly; if indeed this is the experience you’re looking for, this’ll be a pretty good one to sink your teeth into.

Arbitrary Rating: 8/10


One thought on “Happiness

  1. This is exactly the way Todd Solondz makes movies and few are as good and precise as Happiness. Perversely I liked it and found it funny because the entirely bizarre and absurd story is told with such a straight face. You got it entirely right when you say that even though it creeps you out, it is a good money. These people are pathetic in every meaning of the word, but somehow I do feel a level of sympathy for them. Except the pedophile father who clearly steps over my line. He is not just sad but a true monster.
    Well done!

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