New Jersey has seen the emergence of two extremely quirky filmmakers – Kevin Smith, auteur of such films as CLERKS and CHASING AMY, and Todd Solondz, bespectacled brain behind WELCOME TO THE DOLLHOUSE. His latest film, HAPPINESS, is a challenging, messed up film about finding happiness in even the most depressing or depraved of places.
This sentiment, of course, is tied strongly to the locale of Jersey itself. Finding beauty in the banal is an art that both NJ directors excel at. The issues of paedophilia and juvenile rape get all the press, but in the end Solondz’s film dexterously creates a world where happiness often covers up great despair. It is the unraveling of the American suburban dream, showing that underneath the Tupperware and linoleum sheen lies an ugly mass of guilt, duplicity, and evil.
The performances are brilliant, skating the thin blade separating disgust from irony. It is truly a challenging film, and not for everyone However, it is most obviously the mark of an exceptional filmmaker, one who can confidently probe unnerving elements of the human psyche while remaining consistent in tone. The film is disturbing, but rarely gratuitous. It is the unhappy side of happiness stretched out, eviscerated, and left out to smell. Bordering on the pedagogical, the film definitely exposes some unpalatable elements of the American psyche. It its own, sick way, the film remains enjoyable.