Thursday, September 2, 2010
Life During Wartime ***
Director: Todd Solondz
Cast: Shirley Henderson, Allison Janney, Ally Sheedy
Ciarán Hinds, Paul Reubens, Michael K. Williams, Michael Lerner
Dylan Riley Snyder, Christopher Marquette, Renée Taylor
Last we saw the Jordan sisters-Joy, Trish and Helen-they were going through some heavy issues. Joy, was trying to overcome her lover's suicide and find an emotionally balanced man, Trish was coming to terms with her husband Bill's arrest on charges of pedophilia and Helen was coping with the burdens of artistic expression.
The year was 1998, the film was Happiness and all these characters were being played by different actors.
It's impossible not to wonder why Solondz would want to revisit these characters in the first place. These weren't people you exactly wanted to spend more time with; they were damaged, cruel, painful to watch and most of the time impossible to empathize with.
Perhaps this is why he cast new actors, to provide these familiar people with different shades, to make their return easier to assimilate or is there something more metaphysical to all this and the drastic change is meant to symbolize how much these people have actually been transformed (it's also interesting to wonder if this film will appeal to those who haven't seen the original).
Joy is now played by Henderson who infuses her with an elfish vulnerability. The film starts in the same way Happiness did and for a second or two we wonder if Solondz is trying to parody his own movie. Joy even says she feels "just a little deja vu" and as the film advances, the screenplays throws in all sorts of meta references and stunt casting (Reubens plays the ghost of Joy's ex-lover and it's inevitable to avoid associating another character with Reuben's own past).
Janney's Trish is a sad combination of hope and regret, the actress tones down on the bitchiness of her predecessor and turns Trish into someone a bit more human. Her relationship with her son Timmy (Snyder) is the equivalent of the one her husband (Hinds) had with their son Billy (Marquette) in the prequel.
Watching her discuss rape with her child doesn't have the morbidness one would expect. It's not as if Solondz gets pleasure out of scandalizing, it just shows how these characters must cope with the complications of being parents, for what exactly can be defined as good parenting?
Are they better off by concealing sexual concepts from their children or are they doing good by being explicit about what goes on during intercourse. In fact one of the film's "twists" has a lot to do with misconception and mis-communication on this subject.
The overall theme of the film is the quest to fulfill the adage of "forgive and forget", Solondz asks us how are these characters supposed to act when their country is at war.
Timmy brings up terrorism all the time and he interrogates his mom's boyfriend (Lerner) about his opinions on matter he finds imperious.
But what are we supposed to make of the characters' coldness, emotional messes, perversions and such, when the fact is that the war mentioned isn't even being fought in their country?
Are they shielding themselves from accepting that maybe they too have responsibility in their own lives? Before they can move on and forget we have to wonder if these characters will be able to forgive themselves for starters.