by KE Monahan Huntley

Happiness is anything but. Writer/director Todd Solondz' disturbing depiction of American life and the odd assortment of those who populate it, stings with caustic humor as it attacks pretension and reveals bad behavior behind closed doors. Happiness is fleeting, illustrated when one sad sack announces--"I am champagne"--then later commits suicide.

Happiness is not a Dramatica grand argument story--it is an indictment against adults who are egocentric and perversely afflicted. The objective characters are loosely connected to three sisters, Trish, Helen, and Joy, and not a jot of fun is to be found in this family's dysfunctions. Solondz' denouncement of grown-ups (carried over from his first film, Welcome to the Dollhouse) can be inferred from a scene in which Trish's husband Bill Maplewood, a psychiatrist, allows to his psychiatrist:


My patients are ugly. Their problems are trite. Each one thinks he is unique. On a professional level they bore me. On a personal level I have no sympathy. They deserve what they get.

The relationship between Bill and his eleven-year-old son, Billy, has the makings of a relationship story, but it is not fully developed. What is certain is a story judgment of bad--Bill's stoic countenance masks his anguish, as he admits his pedophilia to the shattered boy.

Solondz does concede a hint of hope for humans and their frailties, indicated in an exchange between Kristina and Allen:


(while eating her sundae) Anyway, so then I had to cut up his body, plastic bag all the parts . . . I've been throwing it out gradually ever since. There's still a little left in my freezer.


So you cut off his . . .


No. I left it attached. I didn't want to have to touch it again....Can we still be...friends?


Um...I guess...Yeah...I mean, we all have our...you know...pluses and minuses . . .

Happiness a bold statement-brave in its subject matter, however, it is not a grand argument that examines the problems from the objective, relationship, main and influence character points of view. Without these perspectives it remains one man's provocative opinion, issued forth from "Mr. Solondz' Neighborhood" (FILMMAKER, Fall 1998).

About the Author

KE Monahan Huntley is an editor and publisher based in Southern California. As one of the original contributors to Dramatica, she helped edit and analyze many of the examples. In addition, her numerous articles provided an insightful "conversational" approach to the theory. Today she can be found at Write Between the Lines or follow her on Twitter @kemhuntley.

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