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Life During Wartime
BLU-RAY disk
Jul 27, 2011 By: Mathew Plale
Life During Wartime order
Director:
Todd Solondz

Actors:
Shirley Henderson
Dylan Riley Snyder
Paul Reubens

Rating:
Movie:
Extras:
Overall:

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WHAT'S IT ABOUT?
In his follow-up to 1998's Happiness, writer/director Todd Solondz continues the story but replaces the entire cast with new actors.
IS IT A GOOD MOVIE?
The longest and most heated debate I ever had regarding a single film was over Todd Solondz’s Happiness. It’s perverted and takes its subject matter too lightly; there’s something pathetic and unsettling about banking your movie’s highest point and biggest/darkest laugh around a dog licking up a young boy ejaculate.

Now here is its “quasi-sequel,” Life During Wartime, which continues the story of Happiness (1998) but casts different actors in the roles. Shirley Henderson stands in for Jane Adams, Michael K. Williams for Philip Seymour Hoffman, Allison Janney for Cynthia Stevenson, Ciarán Hinds for Dylan Baker, Paul Reubens for Jon Lovitz, Ally Sheedy for Lara Flynn Boyle…And so on.

Life During Wartime picks up many years later. Trish (Janney) denies the existence of her pedophilic husband (Hinds) to her youngest son (Dylan Riley Snyder), who is also preparing for his bar mitzvah. Billy (Chris Marquette), the oldest, is off at college. Joy (Henderson) has left her lover (Williams) over his obscene phone calls. Andy (Reubens) is still a sad little loser, even after he’s killed himself. And so on.

The problems with Life During Wartime are similar to that of Happiness. It gets off on its twisted fantasies, here (to name a few) as wrongly accused molesters, a girl raiding her mom’s medicine cabinet and a ghost demanding his harmer kill herself now. Still none of it even hints at the funny and/or enlightening portrait of the American middle class underbelly Solondz was going for. The cast’s apparent insecurity through hushed tones--which, I guess, is supposed to imitate profound thought by their characters--doesn’t add any depth, either.

While Solondz’s intentions fail in just about every scene, Life During Wartime does have one thing going for it: it’s not Happiness.

As for the person I got into the debate with over Happiness…I wonder what he thought of Life During Wartime. He probably loved it, the pervo-sicko.
THE EXTRAS
Ask Todd (44:46): In this audio-only feature, director Solondz fields questions that fans were asked to e-mail in March 2011. Topics include if growing up in New Jersey influenced his work, why he chose film over other mediums, misconceptions about his films, casting decisions, whether he’s watched his films with his mother, and much more.

Actors’ Reflections (29:54): Some of the cast of Life During Wartime--Shirley Henderson, Ciarán Hinds, Paul Reubens, Alley Sheedy, and Michael Kenneth Williams--sit down to reflect on their director and the making of the film.

Ed Lachman: This section is divided into three portions: On Life During Wartime (10:52), the director of photography (who earned an Oscar nomination for 2002’s Far from Heaven) shares his views on Solondz’s work and collaborating with him; in the Seleted-scene commentary (9:51), Lachman provides insight on six scenes from the film; and in Five Questions (7:11), he discusses how he got into filmmaking, his approach to cinematography, must-see films for aspiring DPs, and more.

Trailer.

Also included with this Criterion Collection Blu-ray is a 16-page booklet featuring an essay titled “Wars on Terror” by film critic David Sterritt.
FINAL DIAGNOSIS
Those who loved Happiness likely pre-ordered its follow-up, Life During Wartime, whether they saw it in theaters or not. With this Blu-ray release from The Criterion Collection, they'll get solid transfers, interviews with the cast/crew and a rather fascinating Q&A with director Todd Solondz.

Note: Did any of your questions turn up in the Q&A?

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