In the shadow of war, three sisters search for happiness. Trish (Janney) is hoping for a new life with Harvey (Lerner), when her paedophile husband, Bill (Hinds), is released from prison; Joy (Henderson), is haunted by ghosts of her dead lovers; while Helen (Sheedy) lives a life of empty Hollywood wealth with her lover, Keanu.
Those weary of Solondz’s listless acts of provocation might perk at the news that Life During Wartime sees the return of the characters from Happiness. But, in a final attempt to strip out audience goodwill, he’s completely recast the movie, relocating part of the action to South Florida, but divesting the film of anything approaching sunlight. Solondz’s point seems to be that trauma can lead people to change identity but without back story or naturalism, it’s hard to care about these remoulds.
The West Wing’s Alison Janney puts in an on-edge performance, dealing with a son (Dylan Snyder) entering adulthood with questions about his paedophile dad, and Ciarán Hinds lends a defeated gravitas to the role of said father, but otherwise we’re left with a series of stilted drama workshops where each actor emotes their knotty dilemma with a stylised side-order of crying and the requisite deadpanning of uncomfortable dialogue (“Mom! Was dad really sent to jail for raping young boys?”). Such unnaturalism results in a cold audience response and, worse still, cold laughter. When Solondz started out, you felt he genuinely cared about these lonely suburban souls. Now that he’s stopped caring, why should we?
Life During Wartime
Released: 12 July 2010
Three music videos, director’s commentary and stuntwork doc.
Possibly a brave and interesting triumph for its director, but definitely a cold-eyed heartless bore for his audience.
Reviewed by Andrew Male