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Shirley Henderson
Michael K. Williams
Allison Janney
Michael Lerner
Paul Reubens
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Ally Sheedy
Ciarán Hinds.
Todd Solondz.
Running Time
97 minutes

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Life During Wartime
Todd Solondz drops a bomb

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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.

Life During Wartime
What exactly is Todd Solondz playing at? With early releases like Welcome To The Dollhouse and Happiness, the director drew on his own New Jersey upbringing to craft acerbic social comedies that gave voice to America’s forgotten suburbanites, using our emotional involvement with these lonely, isolated lives to slip in divisive truths of modern life. But that clearly wasn’t enough. Perhaps believing such character empathy was a bourgeois dishonesty, Solondz piled on the ‘challenging’ subject-matter (abortion, paedophilia, the Holocaust) for an alienating brace of Brechtian films that both referenced their own fiction (2001’s Storytelling) or, as with 2004’s Palindromes, elected to cast actresses of different ages, shapes and races to play the lead role (a 13 year-old girl looking to lose her virginity).

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 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

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Your Reviews

Average user rating for Life During Wartime
Empire Star Rating


I've seen some really terrible films in my life but this is truely awful. Not once could I feel anything for these characters, there was no emotion and it left me very cold. This is not entertainment or a masterpiece, it's a pretty poor film that takes actors in a lack of storyline and bore everyone to death. Avoid it. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by joanna likes films at 13:27, 13 July 2010 | Report This Post

RE: Life During Wartime

Should say, enjoyed it at the LFF last year, a solid 9/10. ... More

Posted by Ethanial at 21:34, 26 April 2010 | Report This Post

RE: Life During Wartime

Apart from Paladromes I'm a big Soludtz fan, Storytelling was a bit of a mixed experience, however Happiness was a masterpiece and Welcome to the Dollshouse very good too.  Not totally convinced of the point of this revisting, but the cast are brillant and theres enough talent in the director to make it intresting at least. ... More

Posted by ElephantBoy at 23:43, 25 April 2010 | Report This Post

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