CINEMA: The Forever War


DAVID EDELSTEIN: Todd Solondz is a skinny guy with a shock of hair and a droning voice that’s oddly passionate. He writes deadpan comedies, the bleakest I’ve seen; his new film, Life During Wartime, is positively grueling. For better and worse, you’ll never experience anything like this movie. It’s a sequel to Solondz’s 1998 film Happiness, despite the fact that all the roles have been cast with different actors who aren’t much like their predecessors. The original focused on three disparate Jewish sisters living in New Jersey: one a mousy and miserable teacher; one the author of arty, titillating short stories; and the third a chirpy housewife and mother. Happiness was a broad satire with that ironic title hanging over it like a mushroom cloud: There were offscreen suicides, a murder and a subplot about a psychiatrist — the husband of the housewife — who molests little boys. The tone of Life During Wartime fluctuates even more wildly, and I’m frankly still wrestling over its mix of humanism and grotesqueness, of stylized camp and acid realism. The feel is squirmy, malignant, close to David Lynch. It’s largely set in Florida and L.A. and bears no traces of nature: In Edward Lachman’s startling cinematography and Roshelle Berliner’s production design, the world is artificially colored and overbaked. MORE

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