08 December 2010



Starring Jane Adams, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Dylan Baker, Cynthia Stevenson, Laura Flynn Boyle, Justin Elvin Jon Lovitz, Gerry Becker, Molly Shannon. Written and directed by Todd Solondz. Release: 16 October 1998. Good Machine, 134 mins., Rated R

Plot: Life sucks. But it's funny. ish.

Frankly didn't plan on reviewing this movie, but it was the last one we watched in Film History class and out of the lot of 'em (including METROPOLIS and SEVENTH SEAL), this one sort of just grabbed man. The large cast of characters never come off as stereotypical archetypes, never becoming a cardboard puppet. The script ventures into directions one never would have thought, and is quite daring and frank in its depiction of scenarios and life itself. Simply speaking, when the film was over, I was stunned. Not because I was repulsed by some of the subject matter or dark comedy in it - of which there is plenty - but because there's something quite unique and captivating about this production. The performances, the script, the pacing - it's all exquisite and lends itself for one hell of a interesting film that is quite possibly going to stick around in my head for quite some time.

I'm not going to go deeply into each character and their storyline, I feel that after this brief review, if you're inclined to rent it, that's more important, but there is one character I'm going to discuss longer than the others. Before continuing, I'll just add that each and every character is messed up in their own way. One killed a man and chopped him up into pieces and stuck those pieces in their freezer; one is socially inept and projects his frustrations in a sexually harassing way; one is leaving his wife but not filing for divorce; one can't seem to establish any sort of relationship further than a one-night stand; and another can't seem to find any connection in her sexual exploits. The specific character that spoke the most honest and utterly captivating is the phenomenal Dylan Baker (TRICK 'R TREAT), who plays a psychiatrist who secretly harbors sexual attraction to young boys. Although his compulsion is a repulsive trait, the man himself is a charming, and immensely likable human being. He's seemingly the perfect family man and shares a special friendship with his eleven year old son (not in that way), where the two of them engage in some of the most frank, honest, and no bullshit discussion I've seen between two family members in a film for quite some time. The man's acts are unforgivable, but they're presented in a darkly comedic way, and this unwavering like towards his character miraculously makes your stomach queasy when it looks like a outside source is catching on. This is a great example of a writer and actor coming together to create one hell of a striking character.

Not saying the other characters or cast are any less stellar or nuanced in their presentation. As expected from anything he does, Phillip Seymour Hoffman excels in his role, but actually comes off as more pathetic and revolting than Baker's character. At least from my perspective, as no one else in the class seemed to have any objections to his arc or personality. Jane Adams impresses as Joy, the girl who can't quite catch a break. She shares a splendid opening scene with Jon Lovitz, and provides a majority of the comedy in the film. Her character also crosses paths with Jared Harris, who I only mention for his mesmerizing work on FRINGE.

The humorously ironic part is that the title is a true mislead; not a single one of them are happy. In fact, they're all quite miserable, and in the final reel, they end up no better than when they began. I'm not sure if there is some lesson or message to be conveyed here, it just feels like a month snapshot of these folks lives. In that regard, it reminds me of the Coens Brothers, specifically A SERIOUS MAN, where it's just one train wreck after another for the main character(s).

Honestly don't know if you'll find it as interesting as I have, or the various subplots and characters as engaging and multidimensional, but it's a film worth watching.

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