Thursday, July 22, 2010

Another knockout from Todd Solondz: LIFE DURING WARTIME opens via IFC

Not a drama, exactly, nor a comedy (though it features some of the funniest stuff seen on-screen this year), nor a meditation (it is meditative, however), nor a romance (though it does center on couples and coupling), nor a ghost story (though we do see dead people), Todd Solondz's LIFE DURING WARTIME is none of this and all of it.  The one thing I can say for certain that it is not is a musical. And yet I loved the musical score and choice of songs. No one else comes close to making movies like Mr. Solondz (shown below), and thank god for that because, really, how much more of this sadness and pain could we take -- unless it were to come leavened by dark hilarity, as it is here and in every other of the five Solondz films.

The first time I saw this latest outing (at last year's New York Film Festival: My earlier post is here), I marveled at it. Seeing it again this week, I am even more impressed.  I also recognized themes from the filmmaker's earlier Happiness, but not the characters. (Trust
Movies is not good at remembering characters' names, particularly from a film seen well over a decade ago.) Turns out they're the same bunch, though the cast is entirely new -- and every bit as good as the former group.

Solondz's particular gift is for showing us ourselves as we try mightily to adapt our lives to hypocrisy and denial -- and still soldier on successfully.  This is impossible, of course.  But what glum fun we having trying. (And then have even more fun, as we watch ourselves on screen.)  The large extended family shown here is in the process of imploding, thanks in part to the women's poor choice of men.  The men are sad beings, unable not to do wrong, and us usual, it's the children who suffer most -- in this case the daughter on far too many drugs far too soon, and the son, increasingly locked into his mother's neurosis (and the hiding of his dad's socio-pathology) but stuggling to understand before he drowns in it all.

Does this sound dank and dismal?  Sure.  And not being Mr. Solondz, I can't begin to explain how hilarious many of the goings-on actually are.  These laughs are not cheap, by the way.  They come from a deep sense of caring for all the characters -- which is the filmmaker's ace in the hole and why you'll never mistake a Solondz movie for anyone else's.

That cast, as I mentioned earlier, is impeccable. Ireland's Ciarán Hinds and Scotland's Shirley Henderson (above, right, and further above, left) make marvellous Americans, and Ally Sheedy (at right, two photos up) takes a cold, nasty role and infuses it with humor and life. Charlotte Rampling (shown at bottom) has a scene as good as anything she's ever done (and how good is that?!), with Paul Reubens (above, left), Allison Janney, Michael Lerner (below, left) and Michael K. Williams also doing splendid work (truly, there's not a false moment from anyone in the entire cast). As the boy in the center of it all, Dylan Riley Snyder (below, right) is particularly memorable.

As Solondz has so far made a film only every five years, Life During Wartime may be it for awhile. Thanks are due IFC Films for picking this one up for theatrical release, starting Friday, July 23, in NYC at the IFC Center and simultaneously available On-Demand. Click here to find out how to avail yourself of the latter option.

Images above are from the film itself, except that of 
Mr. Solodnz, copyright and courtesy of Richard Phibbs.


GHJ - said...

Jim - I completely agree! I watched Happiness and Life During Wartime back 2 back and I have to say, the latter is a far superior work of art. The complex mood Soldonz creates here is stunning and beguiling. Hopefully I can wrap my own thoughts around it @MatchCuts.

James van Maanen, said...

Good for you, Glenn. I wanted to do exactly that (watch Happiness and LDW back to back) but just couldn't find the time. Also, my phones and internet access were knocked out for three days this past week, and I was going crazy trying to make good on promised postings. I will watch Match Cuts for your thoughts -- which, if history is any indication, you will very well be able to wrap around the film!