Life During Wartime - Movie Reviews - Rotten Tomatoes

Life During Wartime Reviews

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Super Reviewer
September 1, 2012
"People can't help it if they're monsters."

Friends, family, and lovers struggle to find love, forgiveness, and meaning in a war-torn world riddled with comedy and pathos.

Director Todd Solondz takes the various dysfunctional characters of his earlier film, "Happiness", recasts them, and places them in "Life During Wartime". This facial reshuffling then becomes an enquiry on Solondz's part: have these people changed? Are major personality or life changes even possible? How contingent is human behaviour? How reversible are past scars? "Happiness" was a jet black comedy which jumped from paedophilia to suicide to masturbation to divorce to murder, deftly hopping from taboo to taboo with a kind of soul crushing cruelty. For Solondz, everything is a masquerade, humans are petty, pathetic and cruel, and every good deed merely masks something horrible at worst, hypocritical at best.

With "Wartime" Solondz tries to recapture the cringe comedy and satirical edge of "Happiness", but fails entirely, modern audiences now desensitised to his particular brand of sensationalism. With the taboo shocks out the window, his audience is then free to focus on the film's clunky message: the past scars the future, Solondz says, but all should be forgiven, lest a cycle of animosity, hate, fear and torment be perpetuated. The film then aligns these themes to the events of September the 11th; America as a nation should forgive those who abuse her, as those upon whom pain is inflicted in the film should forgive their tormentors, or themselves if necessary. It's all very reductive, but far from the misanthropy which critics of Solondz often accuse him of spouting. If anything, Solondz's a jaded idealist, his characters all looking for a way out of the rut he keeps digging them deeper into.
Super Reviewer
September 4, 2011
Like most of (no, more like all of) Todd Solondz's work, this film is not for everyone. I am a huge fan of Happiness and Welcome to the Dollhouse and even found a soft spot for Palindromes. I think he is one of the most original writer/director's out there. I like the fact that he makes you uncomfortable and, by doing that, probably makes some of the most human films we have seen. This film is about forgiveness and while it has some missteps (I understand the fact that they are kids, but Dylan Riley Snyder as Timmy was nails on a chalk board bad in some scenes), I still felt something after watching it and that's more than I can say for a lot of things I watch these days.
Super Reviewer
April 29, 2010
There are a bunch of great moments and performances in Todd Solondz's "LIFE DURING WARTIME," and some dialogue that ranks with his best, but the film never fully gels as a whole or a standalone. A "sequel" of sorts to the fantastic "Happiness," Solondz's latest feels like it was made so the director himself could revisit and give (some) closure to these characters he obviously has a lot of love for, but he in turn never delivers a narrative that viewers can fully connect with (especially when compared to HAPPINESS; which is immanent). Still, I liked the film. It's completely (disappointingly) tame and it may be kind of forgettable, but the quirky charm and hints of greatness won me over. A mild recommendation..

Despite what you may have heard, watch HAPPINESS first! You'll probably hate this film otherwise. Not knowing who the characters are going in will make portions extremely frustrating.
Super Reviewer
July 29, 2011
There are many intriguing aspects to Todd Solondz's "Life During Wartime." First is that this is technically a sequel to his film "Happiness." I say 'technically' because the film features the same characters from that film, but oddly enough they are all played by completely different actors. Some even have different races. This is actually a brilliant touch because what "Life During Wartime" is about is forgiveness and how people go about accepting it and rejecting it- in themselves and others. The past can distort memories and having the different cast solidifies this point. What you also get with this film is a series of conversations that have extremely piercing dialogue. The performances are all extremely emotional and, at times, disturbingly honest. Solondz is a gifted filmmaker that, along with Miranda July, delight in finding the extraordinary in the ordinary. "Life During Wartime" is not "Happiness," nor is Solondz trying for it to be. It's most certainly a continuation of those characters but for all intents and purposes it's essentially a stand alone film.
Super Reviewer
April 30, 2011
I love, absolutely love that all these people were played by different actors than in Happiness, especially that Allen was played by a black guy. That doesn't stop Life During Wartime from being completely boring, though - despite certain funny moments, it kind of paces in place. Seriously, how do you make child molestation boring?
Super Reviewer
½ September 29, 2010
The interlaced story involves a boy about to be bar mitzvahed, his on-the-lam pedophile dad, pill-popping mom, an aunt dealing with the advances of the ghost of a former lover and her compulsive obscene phone calling husband, and other sad nutcases. It's often described as a black comedy, and although there's plenty of dry and absurd humor and exaggerated characters and situations, it's really more of a searing philosophical drama about forgiveness. A sort-of sequel (with different actors) to Solondz's HAPPINESS.
Super Reviewer
September 20, 2010
Mildly disappointing follow on to 'Happiness' which certainly merited following the dysfunctional characters. Sadly this lacks the bite and shock factor of the original but I'd still prefer to watch Solondz cruising than most on a good day.
Super Reviewer
½ September 18, 2010
Disappointing is a word I have been throwing around a lot lately, but this time I really mean it. Disappointing in the fact that my expectations were extremely high on this one. It is by no means a bad movie, I just expected so much more from it. Todd Solondz is probably my favourite director. I have absolutely loved his other films, they are all on my favourites list!
Here he revisits some old characters with new actors playing them, (not in itself a problem, the wonderful "Palindromes" did nothing but switch around the actors for the whole film). There is still the same wit here and plenty of laughs, but the shock factor is way down on his other films. I am sure it will still shock the easily offended, but something was not quite as sharp in it. The story seemed slighter, some of the roles miscast, (Shirley Henderson in particular the kind of actress you would like to strangle). Maybe it was just time to retire these characters and invent some new ones.
Bill D 2007
Super Reviewer
July 31, 2010
"Life During Wartime" is a mediocre black comedy from Todd Solondz. It's not as bad as his "Palindromes" (2004), but it isn't much better. Solondz clearly is adrift as an artist. He just doesn't seem to have anything more to say. Yet someone keeps giving him money to make films.

As usual, Solondz here fixes his sights on suburbia, probably the easiest cultural target imaginable. It's true that Solondz is uniquely attuned to suburban neurosis; he's just running out of things to say about it. The hottest parts of the film overwhelmingly are two bravura cameos by Charlotte Rampling as a sex-starved walking death ray and Ally Sheedy as a grandiose, self-absorbed Emmy winner.
Super Reviewer
July 26, 2010
Solondz gives us a sequel to his classic Happiness. Happiness was a film of great hilarity, unexpected warmth, and uncomfortable darkness. The first thing to note here is that everyone has been recast. It's been recast to such an extent that half the fun is for those familiar with Happiness to identify the characters. Some are easily recognizable and some are completely different. Phillip Seymour Hoffman is now a slim black guy. The characters are moving on from their lives in the original, but it still feels disconnected. This is probably why Solondz did major recasting, so we can appreciate this on its own. Unfortunately the acting isn't up there with Happiness. Everyone seems desperate to channel the awkward humor, resulting in a film that seems like parody at times. Baker added heart as well as tragedy to his twisted character, Hinds feels a bit more dark and menacing. There could have been so much dramatic intensity, with the children, now older, confronting their father. Instead it settles for quirky moments that mention politics and refer to pedophiles as terrorists. An interesting film for those wanting to see a progression in the characters, but you can expect to be confused and kind of wanting to just watch Happiness again.
Super Reviewer
August 10, 2010
"Life During Wartime" is remarkably engrossing and watchable, considering its scenes are almost nothing but one-on-one dialogue. Typical of a Todd Solondz film, the characters are tormented, hypersensitive and usually on the verge of tears. But some dry humor is inserted amidst the pain.

This film is a sequel of sorts to 1998's "Happiness," but with an entirely different cast. The story's emotional centers are Joy (Shirley Henderson, spellbinding based on her unusual voice alone), her sister Trish (Alison Janney, dependably great) and Trish's fragile son Timmy (Dylan Riley Snyder, dependably grating). Ally Sheedy portrays a third sister (now a rich, frazzled screenwriter), but her part is mostly limited to one showcase scene.

Joy is married to Allen, an obscene phone-caller who struggles to control his compulsion (he limits himself to "just a little on Sundays"). She's also visited by the miserable ghost of Andy, a past suitor who killed himself (I'll omit the actor's name, because it might be an exciting surprise). Trish has two other children, a young daughter (she looks about five) and a college-age son. Her estranged husband Bill is a convicted pedophile who's fresh out of prison but believed dead by his younger kids. Trish is also newly in mismatched love with Harvey (Michael Lerner), who has an adult, ill-adapted son. Both she and Timmy are neurotically wary about Harvey showing signs of sexual deviance. Charlotte Rampling adds a gutsy cameo as a self-loathing barfly who tempts Bill.

These varied characters are woven together through a string of intense, confrontational scenes. The ending is somewhat open but it's not fair to demand a strong resolution, given how irreversibly damaged these people are.

Undeniably, writer/director Solondz still aims to cross boundaries and make his audience uncomfortable. A rapturous Trish tells Timmy that Harvey makes her wet, and casually directs her tiny daughter where to find anti-depressants in the medicine cabinet. Bill asks his son if he has any rape fantasies. Two sex scenes are brutally animalistic. Even a lunch date has a trivial, awkward moment where Trish sends back her salad because the dressing wasn't served on the side. And of course, talk of suicide and molestation is always squeamish. However, Solondz seems more compassionate this time around, and not just intent to sadistically punish his characters to avenge his own wounds. This is crucial.

"Life During Wartime" may capture ambivalent viewers more than expected. It's a lovely-looking film with its moist, golden tones and interesting faces, and it also includes a beautiful title song (not the Talking Heads classic -- this one is co-written by Solondz and Marc Shaiman). If you don't mind a little despair -- OK, a lot of despair -- you'll find "Life During Wartime" quite powerful. And be sure to pay close attention to the final seconds!
Super Reviewer
January 15, 2011

I'm a big fan of Todd Solondz, and I particularly loved his 1998 film, HAPPINESS. It blended scathing social commentary with edgy humor and found the perfect balance. LIFE DURING WARTIME is almost a hybrid of HAPPINESS and his last feature, PALINDROMES, in the sense that it's a sequel to the former, but with an entirely different cast, which the latter experimented with to very strange effect. By presenting familiar characters with a completely new set of people, his most recent film achieves something rare in a sequel --- DISTANCE. Usually we go into a new chapter of a film story with great familiarity and warmth towards the protagonists. Here, we're basically meeting them all over again.

The opening to HAPPINESS featured one of my favorite first movie scenes of all time - -Jon Lovitz being dumped by Jane Adams while out at a restaurant. (THE SOCIAL NETWORK recently topped this scene for me.) This movie opens with another dinner table scene, but the crazy, angry humor has been replaced with numbing sadness. Something's going on with Solondz, and it's definitely not frilly and light. His neverending obsession with pedophilia gets quite a workout here, as do his recurring themes of regret and forgiveness. The cast is stellar, although Shirley Henderson is so bizarrely zombiefied, I grew tired of her quickly. Allison Janney does well with what she's been given, but frankly, these aren't characters you can easily love or relate to - -they're moral archetypes who more often than not speak in such portentous tones, they wouldn't look out of place in a sword and sandals epic like BEN HUR.

Every now and then, there are laughs to be had here, but they usually fall under the category of "funny because I didn't expect a child to say something so vulgar" or "funny because I didn't expect a parent to say that in front of a child". This isn't exactly humor on a SANDRA BULLOCK COMEDY scale.

Solondz is certainly talented, and he definitely wants to keep asking big questions --- which I applaud --- but the joy seems to have been sapped out of him, and what we're left with isn't exactly knocking my socks off. He's now done two sequels to two of his best known films. Todd, please dear God move on to something else and don't do a followup to STORYTELLING. I'm sure we'd all rather see your take on the next FOCKERS film instead!
Super Reviewer
August 14, 2010
Is it a sequel? Well, technically, sure, I guess. More of a coda, really, or a bookend, but here's your chance to catch up with the most damaged family in film history. But the disappointment is that what was mordantly funny and heartbreaking before is only slightly affecting now. I love HAPPINESS. It could well enter my top 20 list of all time. So my anticipation for this film was high. And this is not a bad film; it has the unlucky fate of just not being as good as the great film it follows. Todd Solondz has suggested people who haven't seen the first film might be the ideal audience for this one, but I doubt that. You have to know so much about the first film to really appreciate the scenes here, but knowing the first film has the unhappy effect of making you notice, on a scene-by-scene basis, how this one just doesn't live up to what's come before. Sigh.
Super Reviewer
½ August 11, 2010
In "Life during Wartime," Allen(Michael Kenneth Williams, of "The Philanthropist") had promised his wife Joy(Shirley Henderson, never more annoying) that he had given up his old vices including drugs, fights, sarcasm(no, not that!) and booze. However, that inventory apparently did not include the obscene phone calls he still makes on Sundays. Needing time to sort this out, she goes to Florida to visit relatives including her sister Trish(Allison Janney) who may have found love in Harvey(Michael Lerner). Meanwhile, her son Timmy(Dylan Riley Snyder) feels he is about to become a man as he nears his Bar Mitzvah. Joy is not the only member of her family traveling south as Trish's ex-husband Bill(Ciaran Hinds), a convicted pedophile, has just been released from prison after about ten years.

"Life during Wartime" is a sequel to Todd Solondz's previous film "Happiness" with an entirely different cast of actors, in a daring move to suggest how much we all change over time. Whether or not the characters have learned anything new in the interim or are capable of forgiveness is quite another matter as they are haunted literally by past decisions. While forcing the issue somewhat, Solondz still handles these themes well, as he would not extend forgiveness to those who would hurt others like pedophiles or terrorists. In such uneasy times, he actually manages to be funny occasionally(Charlotte Rampling in particular is a hoot) while lacking much optimism about these lonely characters. Notice how rough and ugly the sex is. It has nothing to do with the ages of the participants, as the activity is borne out of a sense of desperation, not lust or love.
Super Reviewer
August 31, 2010
Not for everyone's sensitivies but you can come to expect that with Todd Solondz' work. The humour is harsh and will likely disturb most. You have been warned. If you really want to test the limits of your funny bone, give it a whirl.
Brandon S.
Super Reviewer
½ December 15, 2011
Timmy is about to be bar mitzvahed. He's going to be a man. This is a time of renewal for many in his family. His mother is trying to move on from a previous marriage, beginning a new relationship with Harvey, a fine, "normal" Jewish man. Harvey is a man of family, tradition and responsibility. He stands in stark contrast to her crazy family. She just wants some normalcy in her crazy life.

His father has been just released from prison, a pedophile who is disowned by his family. They would rather believe that he's dead, and so they tell that story to anyone who asks.

And there's Joy. She's having a bit of relationship trouble. She taking some time off from her husband, Allen, after his relapse into his "problem". People just call him a pervert and leave it at that.

This is the setup for Todd Solondz's Life During Wartime, an ambitious film that asks a single question: Just what does it mean to forgive and forget? With it's many characters, Wartime may be confusing for some, and even a bit too spot-on thematically, but the results remain emotionally resonant.

Allison Janney gives a wonderful performance as a woman struggling to start over with a new flame, and to guide her maturing son. What connects all these many characters is that yearning for a fresh start, the need to wash themselves of past mistakes, and seek forgiveness. To forget all the things that are best left forgotten.

But what exactly can be forgiven? Can you forgive a murderer, a terrorist, a pedophile? And even actions that are forgiven may never be forgotten. Perhaps, as Joy discovers, they linger and haunt our memories like ghosts.
Ryan M
Super Reviewer
August 9, 2011

Todd Solondz is a brilliant mind. And he will always be a brilliant mind. He caught my eye when I first saw his controversial second-feature "Happiness", and now to my surprise, he's made a sequel. This is odd, because the ending of the first film was one that never truly asked for a sequel; nor did it shout such a word in our faces. I didn't want a sequel; but I also didn't mind that there was one. I watched "Life During Wartime" with some decent expectations; perhaps even expecting the unexpected. Solodnz is not new to the element of surprise; but that's what I admire about him. And "Life During Wartime" is, in that sense, most definitely a Todd Solondz film.

As a sequel to "Happiness", the film picks up years after the events of that film, with most of the same characters returning; but each played by a different actor. Allan (Michael Kenneth Williams filling in for Philip Seymour Hoffman), the sexually depraved sleazy-phone-caller that once lusted after his neighbor, is now married to Joy (Shirley Henderson replacing Jane Adams), the ironically named, forever-depressed and worrisome sister of Trish (Allison Janney, rather skillfully taking the part from Cynthia Stevenson). If you remember correctly, Trish was married to Bill (Ciaran Hinds, an inferior actor to the previous portrayer, Dylan Baker), who turned out to be a pedophile. Since this story takes place years later after "Happiness", the two sons and the daughter have grown up; the central one of the first film, Billy, now being in college.

Bill is looking for redemption. Joy is still searching for happiness; something that she can't come to terms with due to the fact that she's being frequently visited by the ghost of a former lost lover who offed himself (Paul "Pee Wee" Reubens), and also because her relationship with Allan is often distant and more-often misunderstood.

Timmy, the youngest son of Bill and Trish, is about to become thirteen. The family is Jewish; thus, he must prepare for his grand bar mitzvah. He believes that this will automatically allow him to enter adult-hood; but he is faced with the acceptance of his mother's new lover and his father's true identity, which his mother has been keeping from him forever.

In "Happiness", every central character was depraved. The film was highly controversial and detracted due to its depiction of themes such as masturbation, pedophilia, rape, and the link between happiness and sadness all-together. That was a film that mixed the emotions and sadness, happiness, and humor together flawlessly. With "Life During Wartime", Solondz has captured the basics of human desperation; but attempts to earn his audience through our familiarity with the characters and their personalities from the first film. But he forgets that they were played by different actors, some more capable than the new guys, but none-the-less, he does well here.

The film is good for what it is. "Life During Wartime" is a film that is most definitely worth seeing. It's a dark comedy that turns its once tragic material into all-out farce; instead of just adding humor here-and-there. It's not hilarious, and it's not meant to be, but it does have some very big laughs as long as you can be accepting. I suppose I enjoyed myself when I watched it. This is Todd Solondz's film; this is his story; his world. I admit that he made the film that he may have wanted to make. But a sequel to "Happiness", and a great sequel, was impossible; and he knew it. He's made an entirely different film out of similar material. The actors do their jobs. In the end, there are things I liked about the film and things I greatly disliked. I liked the ambition and the story that it was trying to tell as well as the familiar risks that Solondz took with his screenplay. I also liked the cinematography and the visual craft that accompanies the story-telling. But then again consider the fact that I intend to make a bit of an emotional investment in films that cover such subjects not only for comedy but also for drama; and I just didn't "feel" anything, whilst "Happiness" had me in tears in one of its best scenes. You'll find nothing of the like here, but since films can just "be"; this one isn't all that bad.
Super Reviewer
February 9, 2013
Then there's Life During Wartime, the sequel to Happiness. All the questions I never had are more or less answered here. Some of the references actually did put a smile on my face, but for the most part I found it dull. It's not much worse than Happiness, but that's not saying to much. I felt it was to colorful for the topics at hand, and never really accomplished anything.
Super Reviewer
½ August 18, 2012
If you have never seen a Todd Solondz film than you will probably enjoy this alot more. My problem with it is that it feels Solondz is very indulgent and lazy fitting this film together with pieces that he has shown us multiple times before. Not one time in this film is there that fun house balance of over the top darkness and comedy that is in 'Happiness', it is either just awkward or flat. It is very very predictable which is one of the worst things that a Solondz film should be.
Super Reviewer
May 2, 2009
Todd Solondz's semi-sequel to "Happinness" is another 'difficult' film about relationships and unsympathetic characters. Some of the 're-casting' works well, and there are some excellent against-type performances, but it lacks the extreme black humour and irony of Happiness and is a bit too episodic. Like much of Solondz's output, it works about 50% of the time.
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