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Lions Gate presents
Happiness (1998)

"Sometimes appearances can be deceiving."
- Bill Maplewood (Dylan Baker)

Review By: Rich Rosell  
Published: July 06, 2003

Stars: Dylan Baker, Jane Adams, Lara Flynn Boyle, Cynthia Stevenson, Philip Seymour Hoffman
Other Stars: Jon Lovitz, Marla Maples, Louise Lasser, Ben Gazzara, Camryn Manheim, Molly Shannon, Rufus Read, Jared Harris, Evan Silverberg, Elizabeth Ashley
Director: Todd Solondz

Manufacturer: Crest National
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (language, mature themes)
Run Time: 02h:19m:45s
Release Date: June 03, 2003
UPC: 031398826620
Genre: drama

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A AB-B- D+

DVD Review

When it comes to the gawk-worthy joys of dysfunctional families, sexual hangups, societal misfits and abhorrent behavior, there are few who capture it so well, and so unflinchingly, as writer/director Todd Solondz (Welcome to the Dollhouse, Storytelling). While the twisted teen angst of Dollhouse elevated Solondz's notoriety, 1998's Happiness stands as his grand guignol masterpiece that moves easily from bizarre dark comedy to terribly disturbing reality (and back again) in a heartbeat.

This is a large-scale story with a talented cast, full of a number of simultaneously developing stories and characters, all of whom are interconnected by some thread or another. Like Magnolia, Happiness glides back-and-forth between these stories, using the three Jordan sisters as the common bond. Joy Jordan (Jane Adams) is a meek, lonely songwriter looking for love, while seemingly perfect married sister Trish (Cynthia Stevenson) is referred to by other characters as "having it all," which in Solondz's world certainly means the opposite, and Helen (Lara Flynn Boyle), the third Jordan, is a vacuous, hip writer/poet who has difficulty getting used to the fact that so many men desire her. Their retired parents are Mona (Louise Lasser) and Lenny (Ben Gazzara), a couple with their own set of problems, having slowly grown out of love with each other over the years. Added to the mix is a serial obscene phone-caller (Philip Seymour Hoffman), a therapist (Dylan Baker) with pedophiliac desires and dreams of mass murder; an overweight loner (Camryn Mannheim) with a deep, dark secret of her own; and a thieving Russian cab driver (Jared Harris).

The storyline about Dylan Baker's sexually deviate Bill Maplewood (his character is married to "perfect" Trish) is the film's most painfully raw element, and certainly the hardest to quantify as mainstream entertainment fodder. But as the unofficial centerpiece of Happiness, Solondz lays out hypnotic chunk after chunk of dialogue that sound like things we shouldn't be hearing, yet it is impossible to turn away. Baker is excellent in that creepy Mr. Rogers kind of way, and as we watch him plan and contemplate his sexual conquests, there is little to do but be completely reviled and frightened at behaviors that go unnoticed by the rest of his "perfect" family. His frequent talks with his eleven-year-old son Billy (Rufus Read) about masturbation and ejaculation are frank, startling and oddly amusing, as Solondz daringly treads water between purely black comedy and ugly reality. It's never clear whether we are supposed to laugh, cringe or both.

Todd Solondz will never be accused of being a "feel good" filmmaker, as witnessed by his three major works. From this film's opening scene of a romantic breakup that goes brutally wrong to the completely twisted final moments (possibly one of the more bizarre things I have ever encountered in a film), Happiness invites you to peek in on the shallow lives of the various characters, and Solondz then all but dares you to not look away when things get ugly.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Rationo

Image Transfer Review: Lions Gate moderately deceptive Signature Series label might logically imply a new transfer, but instead it is the same nonanamorphic "4:3 letterbox" (roughly 1.85:1) print found on the earlier Trimark release. As before, this version is still mottled with a fair amount of chunky white specks, though Solondz's use of bright primary colors in a number of scenes is reproduced quite well. Haloing and shimmer artifacting occurs more often than it should, and at one point a lampshade in Helen's apartment looks almost as if it is alive. The richness of the color palette and the depth of the blacks still manage to rise above the transfer gaffes, however.

Image Transfer Grade: B-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishno

Audio Transfer Review: An unexceptional 2.0 surround track (again, the same track found on the earlier release) is provided, and considering how Happiness is a dialogue-driven piece, I can cut it a little slack on its decidedly flat presentation. Voices, though, are clear and there was never any difficulty understanding dialogue at any time.

Audio Transfer Grade: B-


Disc Extras

Animated menu with music
Scene Access with 36 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
Cast and Crew Biographies
1 Original Trailer(s)
2 Other Trailer(s) featuring Slam, Another Day In Paradise
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: Not much here, with just a handful of bios (only current through 1999) for Jane Adams, Lara Flynn Boyle, Jon Lovitz, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Dylan Baker and Todd Solondz. Three theatrical trailers (Happiness, Slam, Another Day in Paradise) are also available.

The film is cut into 36 chapters, and the disc includes subtitles in English, French and Spanish.

Some "Signature Series."

Extras Grade: D+


Final Comments

Happiness is Todd Solondz's wildly offbeat quasi-epic of loneliness and unhappiness, and he balances that dangerous line between dark comedy and tragic drama expertly.

Lions Gate, however, has done nothing to fancy-up this latest DVD release, despite making it part of their Signature Series, which in this case is marketing talk for "we took the same old print and lack of extras found on the Trimark release and put 'em here." If you own the old release, you'll find nothing different this time around.

Still, despite the simple repackaging, Happiness is highly recommended.


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