Picks and Pans Review: Happiness
Its title may be all smiley-faced, but there is nothing happy about Happiness. There is, however, much that is funny, shocking and profoundly disturbing in this subversive black comedy about suburban angst. Some moviegoers (my tent is pitched in this camp) will embrace Happiness, while tons of others will loathe it, objecting to the film's graphic scenes of masturbation, explicit phone sex and its verging-on-sympathetic portrayal of a pedophile.
Happiness is the second movie by writer-director Todd Solondz (Welcome to the Dollhouse) and confirms that he is a filmmaker of both twisted vision and enormous talent. As in Dollhouse, Solondz sets Happiness in the New Jersey suburbs, where he follows three adult sisters (Stevenson, Boyle and Adams), their romantic and would-be romantic partners and parents (Ben Gazzara and Louise Lasser), who are themselves spatting in Florida.
At the center of the movie is the sad but horrifying story of the pedophile husband (Baker), a shrink who understands just how sick his compulsions are but cannot curb them. He is wed to the oldest sister (Stevenson), a homemaker blissfully unaware of hubby's true nature. In scenes that are both touching and discomforting, their 11-year-old son (Read) keeps coming to Baker for sex advice. Everybody in Happiness could use sex advice, as no one's sex life seems at all satisfying or normal. Maybe that's the point.
In the excellent ensemble cast, Baker (Murder One), his face a study in queasy repression, is the standout. (And watch for Maria Maples, the ex-Mrs. Donald Trump, as a real estate agent who chirps, "Divorce was the best thing that ever happened to me.") (Not rated)
Bottom Line: If you're on the right wavelength, Happiness offers a memorable ride