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USA 1998
Directed by
Todd Solandz
133 minutes
Rated R

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3.5 stars


Todd Solandz's film opens with a marvellous restaurant scene in which an unprepossessing male (Jon Lovitz) is dumped by the young lady (Jane Adams) of his fancy. What makes it so good is that although it appears to be a typically squishy rom-com scenario, writer-director Solandz suddenly flips it on it head and from the sentimental melancholy of love's labours lost we are confronted by the anger and bile of the injured party.

And so Solandz ushers us into a world of small pains in this mordant story of three sisters - respectively, a dis-satisfied call centre telephonist (Adams), a successful and beautiful but self-loathing novelist (Lara Flynn Boyle) and a happy housewife and mother of three (Cynthia Stevenson).

To put it mildly the film's title is meant ironically as writer-director Solandz maps out the world of quiet desperation in which all his characters live. There will be some who won’t be able to sit through the unrelieved and often excruciating misery of these sad lives from Adam’s nudge-wink named Joy, to Philip Seymour Hoffman's chronic masturbator and Dylan Baker's paedophile psychiatrist but Solandz is not about to offer any feel-good sop to his audience in what at times feels like the director’s revenge on Tinseltown optimism. 

Narratively, Solandz isn’t entirely successful in juggling the various narrative threads. Lara Flynn Boyle's celebrity author is a rather weakly drawn and underdeveloped character whilst the story of the estranged parents played by Ben Gazzara and Louise Lasser (a one-time muse to Woody Allen, whose films clearly Solandz would know) is only schematically-handled.

Although too persistently inverted to be entirely convincing as a portrait of the human comedy, and it never again hits the high of that opening scene, those with a taste for gallows humour should find Solandz dedication to the glass half-empty point of view impressive.




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