Life During Wartime

By Moira Sullivan
Todd Solondz’ sequel to Happiness called Life During Wartime premiered last year at the Venice Film Festival and took home the best screenplay award. Solondz who serves as both screenwriter and director for his new film is a favorite at this festival, and four years ago he brought Palindrome together with actress Ellen Barkin. In that film several actors play the same character and in Life During Wartime, other actors than the original ones in Happiness play the main roles. The plot follows the lives of the three Jordan sisters, Trish Allison Janney, Joy Shirley Henderson, and Helen played by Alley Sheedy. The scene is Miami Florida and it's pro Israel Jewish community.

Trish raises her children alone and is on antidepressants. Her husband Bill played by Ciarán Hinds, was arrested for child molestation but is now out of jail.  She begins dating Harvey (Michael Lerner) and tries to start anew. Her son Timmy (Dylan Riley Snyder), the poster boy of the film, is a precocious and daring 12 year old about to become a man and do his Bar Mitzvah.  Trish told him that his father had died rather than the truth that he went off to jail and he is devastated. But he also accuses Harvey of being a pedophile though he later apologizes for being mistaken. Trish is not so understanding: once a perv, always a perv.  Bill has a one-night stand with Jacqueline superbly played by Charlotte Rampling and it is assumed that he later commits suicide.
Joy takes a leave from her husband who is an ex con in order to visit Trish and Helen but while she is gone he kills himself as did her other boyfriend Allen played by Paul Reubens. And Helen, a successful TV writer with a slew of award trophies decides to inform her about how her life doesn’t seem to be working.  Though she herself seems shut off and alone in her huge house despite all of her accomplishments.
The power of this film is twofold: there is an exceptional screenplay with masterly dialogue and the delivery of  them by a fine ensemble of actors.  The dark themes that Solondz explores such as pedophilia, suicide and prescription drug abuse may be disturbing to audiences but he says that these things are in the news everyday.  It is hard to single out any of the three sisters for their acting acumen since all are positively enchanting and skillful.  Their neurotic natures may vary, Trish being more happy go lucky yet vindictive at the same time, Joy carefree yet attracting men with death wishes and Helen who can not commit to a single thought about her true feelings.  The musings of the characters is humorous but also disturbing. No one should have to live with such entrenched grief disguised as contentment or compensated through excessive work. All too often the men seem to check out with suicide.
The title of the film is both a metaphor for the war of the emotions and life during todays long standing Palestinian Israeli conflict, which is a war that has engulfed the world for decades. Underneath this are the atrocities the Jews have suffered in history. But as Harvey’s son explains, "In the end China will take over and none of this will matter".

Here now is Todd Solondz in an exclusive interview with Movie Magazine here in San Francisco.

For Movie Magazine this is Moira Sullivan

© 2010 - Moira Sullivan - Air Date: 08/04/10
Movie Magazine International