**.5 GM
Starring: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Dylan Baker, Lara Flynn Boyle, Jane Adams, Ben Gazarra, Louise Lasser, Jon Lovitz, Cynthia Stevenson, Camryn Manheim, Rufus Read, Jared Harris


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I saw this film shortly after seeing "Pleasantville" - a film that celebrates the joy of uncertainty not knowing what's coming up next in life. "Happiness" shows us exactly why that unpredictability should be feared and loathed. This is what J.T. Walsh and his black and white cronies were scared of all along. If only we'd known…

Folks, even the creepy just want to be happy. Be you pedophile, killer, stalker, a pretentious writer looking for a thrill or just a frightened soul lost in the shuffle, happiness just won't show its perhaps-imaginary face and no one has any idea how to go about finding it.

This film is a disturbing and unrelenting journey through the lives of some of the creepiest people ever. Phillip Seymour Hoffman, who honed his creepy muscles in "Boogie Nights," is particularly effective at handing out shovelfuls of heebie-jeebies for the unsuspecting viewer with his constantly panting, sweating and masturbating Allen, who gets his kicks by placing obscene phone calls to people like Helen (LARA FLYNN BOYLE), a pretentious writer looking for some actual experience to back up her poems about rape while searching for a date for her sister Joy (JANE ADAMS), who's 30, living with her separated-but-still-living-together parents (BEN GAZARRA and LOUISE LASSER), enduring bad relationships with Andy (JON LOVITZ) and Vlad (JARED HARRIS) and admiring her sister Trish (CYNTHIA STEVENSON), who believes she has it all while not realizing she's married to another nauseating ball of sickness named Bill (DYLAN BAKER), an active child rapist who doubles as a therapist to the aforementioned sweaty creep Allen and his problems with women - problems that would be solved if he just noticed Kristina (CAMRYN MANHEIM), a real peach of a gal that has an inexplicable thing for Allen, as well as hunks of doorman in her freezer. A truly disgusting cast of characters that we would normally look at once and look away quickly for fear of thinking about them too much and spoiling our good moods.

Writer/director Todd Solondz shoves a camera into the open sores of America and forces us to stare at the misfits and the society dandies long enough to show us the frightening similarities that can exist between the loving PTA-member father of two and that guy down the hall that sticks stuff to the wall with his man-chowder. It also manages to show us that all-creepy, all-the-time is just as big a myth as the idyllic suburban life. Pervert Bill also manages to warmly, albeit oddly, help his pubescent son Billy (RUFUS READ) come to terms with his newfound sexuality, thus showing that there are two sides to EVERY coin, including the demons of society.

What I usually think about during these types of films, though, is how exactly themes of this perverse and frightening nature are explained to the child actors that are crucial to the film. How much did Solondz corrupt or muck with the minds of these kids - one of which has to deal with the aftermath of being raped and the other that has to confront his father about his despicable acts and to masturbate for the camera? Knowing what I was like when I was eleven, I can't imagine dealing with this sort of thing. Then again, I was an idiot until I got to college.

Whatever your reaction to the film, it is undoubtedly powerful and disturbing, with a few funny spots here and there. The audience is never on steady footing, always muddling around in uncharted film territory and never quite sure how to react to it. There is no manipulation of emotion through the script, no evil music playing during the creepy scenes. Everything is simply shown and you are the judge - something often ignored in film today. It will make you deal with your thoughts and opinions about the seamy underbelly of human existence, and the discussion it fosters should be interesting at least and eye-opening at most.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to go take a shower… I have to get clean… clean…

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