Sunday, August 21, 2011

Life During Wartime: Movie Review


Twisting normal life into something that is weirdly funny and strangely bizarre.

Dark, funny and tragic, “Life During Wartime” is like a satire of one of those dysfunctional family dramedies. But by creating characters that are just outside of arm’s reach and having them say things that are more tragic than funny, it’s more like it is a family dramedy than a satire of one. 2009

Directed by: Todd Solondz

Screenplay by: Todd Solondz

Starring: Allison Janney and Shirley Henderson

Joy (Shirley Henderson) is married to a drug addict and phone sex addict and she thinks she’s going to cure him, instead she’s off wandering this world on her own. Trish (Allison Janney) has finally found a “normal” guy and is raising her kids to forget about their pedophile father. I remember enjoying Todd Solondz’s previous films “Welcome to the Dollhouse”, “Storytelling” and “Happiness” (which this is some kind of bizarre continuation of – some of the same characters, none of the same actors), but this one was presented to me as if these are somewhat “normal” people but they don’t do anything or say anything in normal ways.

It is funny. To some people, it’s funny in a laugh-out-loud way because the filmmaker is daring enough to have the characters say things which normal people wouldn’t say. To other people, it’s funny because it’s a real representation of how dark the world is. To me, it’s funny in an awkward and uncomfortable way since these “normal” characters are saying such inappropriate things.

I was left on the outside looking in because these “normal” characters are not normal, they are weird, bizarre and off-putting. Solondz was trying to walk that very thin line of laughing at the characters but caring about them at the same time and going through the same emotional turmoil that they are. I ended up on the wrong side of that line, where I nervously laughed at them occasionally but didn’t care about them at all.

It’s not really straight-out funny enough to be a satire, but then again, Solondz doesn’t really do anything straight. This is good writing and good filmmaking where subtle hints at the characters’ fantasies become their reality, which become an indictment of the society that we live in – “Life During Wartime.” As the saying goes, it’s funny because it’s true, but the characters are just a little too far from normal to be true.