There are some directors that I am determined to keep coming back to even though I have yet to actually like anything they do. Todd Solondz is one of these directors. He is an auteur with a strong visual and thematic sensibility and yet I literally hate everything he has ever done. Happiness, Welcome to the Dollhouse, and Storytelling left me cold and bored out of my mind for most of the respective films running times. So why must I insist that I keep watching his movies? Why must I sit through a movie I am actively hating just so I can say that I have seen it? Because I like to torture myself I suppose.
Life During Wartime is a kind of sequel to Happiness. He took these terrible characters from his breakout movie, recast them and propelled them a couple of years into the future. Joy is a weepy hippie who has just broken up with her pervert boyfriend (originally played by Phillip Seymour Hoffman in Happiness, this character is barely in this movie). She travels to Florida where her mother and her older sister is staying. Trish, the older sister, is the wife of the pedophile from the previous film. She moved to Florida to start anew and escape the crimes of her ex-husband. She tells her young son and daughter that their father is dead. But the father gets out on parole and wants to desperately see his oldest son who is away at college. So the father journeys to the college to confront his son and ask him if he was a pervert like him. This coincides with Joy going to California to visit her other sister, Helen who is a successful entertainment person but is completely unhappy in a vague and boring way. Joy is plagued by the ghost of a man she dated for a while. This man haunts her and breaks down her resolve to live a good life. Can Joy, Trish, and Helen all find a peace of mind in their weird and very sad lives?… Eh.. Who cares if they do.
From the moment we are introduced to Joy she is crying. I know that Solondz is playing with her name and contrasting her against her incessant need to keep crying, but this annoying character trait does not elevate her beyond someone to pity. She doesn’t become an interesting and dynamic person, she is just freaking annoying. To hang your entire movie on a depressing zombie like character dooms it to being boring. None of these characters are ever elevated out of their initial character quirks. They never become real people who one can have sympathy for. This is why I don’t like Solondz. It seems like he thinks of one character quirk and builds a whole movie around that instead of telling a compelling story with well-rounded characters.
This movie was a hermetically sealed bore fest. Every chance he got to tell a compelling story, he wasted on just throwing offensive stuff at the wall to see if it stuck. What sucks is that he got such a great cast to embody such lifeless characters. Shirley Henderson in particular is a good actress that is just absolutely wasted here as the main character, Joy. I have given up on Solondz completely. I will no longer be seeing any more of his movies. Please do not recommend them to me, like ever.