Todd Solondz:"Happiness" (1998)

Easily one of the 1990s' most controversial films, Happiness evoked a broad range of opinions and emotions. Writer/director Todd Solondz, who debuted with Welcome to the Dollhouse, a portrait of suburbia as the site of a young girl's misery, followed it up with this troubling and thought-provoking exploration of the unhappiness that lurks behind the facades of normality. Some viewers objected to (or were impressed by) the frank depictions and descriptions of sex and masturbation, others were disturbed (or impressed) by the very idea of humanizing a pedophile by showing us the world through his eyes, and still others were troubled (or exhilarated) by that fact that they were laughing through it all. Where some critics saw daring originality, others saw self-conscious shock. Diverse story lines are skillfully balanced, and Solondz coaxes great performances from his varied cast. Love it or hate it, few viewers could deny Solondz's success in ensuring that a scene in which the pederast explains himself to his son is one of the most chilling and unforgettable of the decade. The movie may not always be pleasant to watch, but it is startlingly effective in making us consider the banal evil that goes hand in hand with our quest for happiness.


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