Todd Solondz' films have a way of polarising audiences. Welcome to the Dollhouse, Happiness, Storytelling and Palindromes all have as many fans as they have detractors.
I personally find some of his work brilliant and some unpleasant. Happiness was well and truly in the latter category with very few of the characters having what are often called redeeming features. I approached the screening of Life During Wartime last night with an open mind. The cast featured some unbelievable actresses and this alone made me hopeful.
The film itself follows predominately 2 of the three sisters from the first film and looks at their ability to heal, forgive and embrace living. Humour is found in the darkest of moments (sometimes this works, sometimes it doesn't). Shirley Henderson, as Joy, is truly magnificent - believable and sympathetic in every engagement with her family and her long dead ex-boyfriend. Allison Janney, as Trish, is perfectly pitched as the mother trying to raise her 3 kids and get out from under the shadow of her ex-husbands crimes. Her decisions and the choices she makes including what to tell and what not to tell her growing son are always influenced by the events that went before.
Underpinning the entire film is a cast fighting to move on with life. Ally Sheedy (As the third sister) has an almost jarring moment when Shirley Henderson's Joy comes to visit and Charlote Rampling has a star turn as a woman trying to find a way to survive divorce. Both of these pieces are strong but distract from the overall cental story of the film. Cirian Hinds performance is haunting, but lacking in significant insight, as the father released from prison concerned about his impact on his now college age son.
Perhaps I just wanted more from this film, the same insight into the peripheral characters as you had to Joy and Trish perhaps.
Overall my assessment is brilliant in parts, but with some essential missing ingredients.
LynS also saw this so drop by her blog for her opinion.