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Wednesday, October 21, 1998
Houston, Texas
Volume 64, Issue 42

Video Vixen

About the Cougar

Happiness provokes many human emotions that are far from ‘happyi

Rattaya Nimibutr
The Daily Cougar

There once was a time when peopleis innermost deep, dark secrets were hidden from the rest of the world because those types of things just werenit talked about in public.

But with the new movie Happiness, subjects that have been suppressed in the past are freely discussed, coinciding more with the current times.

Happiness, which opens in limited theatres around Houston Friday, centers around the branches of a family. First there are the parents, whose status evolves slowly to a painfully silent divorce. Then we follow three sisters who are compelling in every way.

Recently talking with Todd Solondz, the writer and director of Happiness (who also brought you Welcome to the Dollhouse), I asked him why he films more sensitive issues than those usually portrayed in todayis movies.

"The film openly deals with certain universals. It deals with loneliness, desire, isolation and the struggle to connect. I think those things affect us all," Solondz said.

We first see Joy (Jane Adams) and her world of a lack of a significant other. Then thereis the other sister Helen (Lara Flynn Boyle), a writer who has her own problems to deal with in addition to helping Joy find a lover.

Then thereis her neighbor, lonely Allen (Phillip Seymour Hoofman), who gets his satisfaction from his psycho calls to others.

"Those things are the overarching themes. I hope people will get beyond the shock level of the movie, which I think many people are shocked by it, but thatis certainly not my goal or even intention on any level," Solondz said.

"I understand Iim dealing taboo, but thereis nothing in the movie that you canit see on TV, like on a talk show or in the tabloids, any day of the week. Theyive got these stories all he time. Itis hard to avoidthem unless you just never read or watch TV."

Vlad (Jared Harris, left) and Joy (Jane Adams) discuss the meaning of Happiness in Todd Solondz's new film.

Courtesy of Good Machine Releasing

When asked what kind of reaction he wanted for these characters, Solondz said that he would like the attention to be on giving these characters some chance.

"I think ultimately the movie requires a certain kind of open-mindedness from the audience. In the same way the characters are struggling to connect with each other, the audience has to come halfway to meet these characters," he said.

While the message may simply just be that there are people who will go the great distance to find their own self-satisfaction, Solondz was quick to point out moralism.

"That kind of jangly message of righteous moralistic moralism and exploitation makes it inevitable that the filmmaker will try to deal seriously with these issues to explore, to understand, rather than to judge and punish these characters.

"I think thatis what makes us more human and in the process that if we allow ourselves to acknowledge the humanity of these people who would rather dismissed for the repugnance of what we see going on."

For example, happily-married sister Trish (Cynthia Stevenson), who continually reminds everyone of her perfect marriage and kids, has a husband, Bill (Dylan Baker), who is a pedophile.

His obsession is intimate, sick and was close to being banned by the film industry.

"Bill Maplewood, who gets a lot of attention, is a tragic figure, not so much of his sexual pre-delictions, but because he is a great father who loves his son, loves his family and he is not a monster but struggling with a monster within.

"He succumbs to his circle of demons as he transgresses," Solondz said. What he does is unforgivable, but if there is redemption for such a man, it lies in the honesty of love he shares for his son, in which before him, he cannot but tell the truth."

Half of the things portrayed in this movie can simply be written off as "sick," and yet you do not find the same hatred for these characters or the filmmakers as you do towards the movie itself.

"You read in cold blood, you see this vile crime committed, and you see this lowlife, but as you read on, itis a heartbreaking story and youire totally heartbroken. And when they hang them at the end, thereis a kind of acknowledgement of what is so terribly sad about the loss of all these lives," Solondz said.

"Because the movie is a reflection of assumption of the world we live in, and it says something of who we are. We are all preyed to these things, the sorrow of theses characters."

Solondz, though, is probably the last person you would pick to make such a film. 
With sex, obsession and the psychotic reality if loneliness, Happiness has a little pinch of it all. "Itis a very tricky movie, very delicate when it comes to humor, given the subject matter. For me, as connected as I may be to all these characters, I would find it unbearable if I didnit have a kind of detachment from which I think this sort of humor arises," he said.

Solondz added that he strives to make films that are original, creative and attention-grabbing. "Iim not looking at making just any kind of movie. I sit in my room and I have stories and characters, and I try to figure out what is compelling to me and it gets me to write something.

"While the (movie) is terribly sad, it is also very funny in the way the characters play off of each other. Iim most moved by what I find funny, and itis that kind of line I walk (on)." Though it is funny at times, the intensity of the film itself makes you hide behind the seat or just stare at the screen with your jaw dropped. It reaches you in a way that you barely talk about with anyone.

But we are in a time where a film of this magnitude may mark the era of begging people to be more open-minded. For Solandz, his fetish for making such movies is finally getting the attention it deserves. "For me, I want the movie to work on a personal level that it speaks to us in some ways that it is very difficult. Iim not trying to shock (anyone), or get people mad." He said.

With that, Happiness asks for attention, open minds that will accept the harsh reality of the movie and a reaction that is honest and sincere.

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