Life During Wartime
Todd Solondz’s films were recommended to me by my brother-in-law as he noticed I have a penchant for the heavy-handed, and tragic. But there’s a quality in his films that almost make them too much for me to take in. Almost. Life During Wartime is being touted as Solondz greatest film to date. I’m pleased to say that I agree.
While I can say that I appreciated his films like Happiness, and Welcome to the Dollhouse, there was something lacking. The characters were developed, but at the same time, they almost felt like caricatures. Surely, in reality, no one is that unlucky, that screwed up. Maybe it’s just me, but that’s how I felt. In Life During Wartime, we’re introduced to the same characters we met in Happiness. Kind of. They are the same characters, but different. For instance, Philip Seymour Hoffman’s character in Happiness, is now played by Michael K. Williams from The Wire. They’ve all aged at different paces as well, allowing Solondz to really create new story lines for each of them. The original script is penned by the director as well. He takes these new story lines, and his characters, and spins a tale that is both disturbing, and darkly hysterical. It’s like he’s daring you to make a decision: are you going to sympathize with these sad people, or find humor in their strange quirks and misfortunes.
Like his previous movies though, all the characters are sad. And sad things happen to them. No matter what good things seem to be in the works, they never materialize, and often result in more trauma than is necessary. Wartime features a stellar cast, led by the likes of Allison Janney, Shirley Henderson, Williams (as previously mentioned), and Michael Lerner. They bring the story to life and manage to make the audience care what happens to them. At the same time, as I’ve mentioned before, it’s sad things, happening to sad people. Which makes one ask the question, who really wants to watch something like this? Even though I end up being involved in the story, is it a story that I would like to be involved in? For me, the answer to that question ended up being a yes. My opinion of Life During Wartime is quite high and I do feel it’s Solondz best work today. At the same time, I find myself trying to make a mental list of friends I could recommend this film to, and it’s short, if not completely empty.