2009 // USA // Todd Solondz // August 29, 2010 // Theatrical Print (Landmark Tivoli Theater)
B- - Memory, culpability, and above all forgiveness snake with python-scale brazenness through Todd Solondz's Life During Wartime, a sequel (of sorts) to Happiness, his 1998 pitch-black slice of middle-class disillusionment (and, memorably, pedophilia). Recasting all of the characters from that film, Solondz revisits the frayed, stymied lives of middle-aged sisters Joy, Trish, and Helen Jordan (here played by Shirley Henderson, Allison Janney, and Ally Sheedy) as they attempt to forget, move on, and start over. Building upon its predecessor's single-minded theme—You Hardly Ever Get What You Want—Life During Wartime gazes on the tangled, habitually dysfunctional lives of the Jordan clan and pointedly asks who we should blame for our miseries, and whether our offenders should (or can be) forgiven. Solondz's approach is his customary swirl of jarring frankness and comical anguish. The forthrightness of the film's aims lend it the aura of a morality play, as does its curious structure, which forgoes conventional narrative for a succession of linked set pieces, each one amusing and aching in its way, and each something of a self-contained short film. Solondz's despairing yet earnest sensibility remains an acquired taste. Yet while Life During Wartime is unmistakably slighter and less bracing than its forebears, it also reveals a more disciplined and adroit filmmaker.