Movie review: Happiness (1998)

Not for the squeamish, read the blurb on Netflix. Happiness continued to shock me, scene after scene. Action or dialogue that I didn’t expect. Just when I thought that I encountered the last one, the next scene was worse. Happiness shows some pretty dark and twisted sides of people.

The story centers on three sisters, their parents, and the people that intersect with their lives. One sister (Trish) is married, living a seemingly perfect and happy life. The other sister (Helen) is a successful writer, beautiful, stylish, the object of desire, and enjoyer of random sex. The third (Joy) is pitied by the other two, living at home, alone, a struggling musician at 30. Deemed unhappy and a loser by her sisters.

Jon Lovitz enters and exits the movie early as a rejected boyfriend of Joy, the 30-year-old labeled unhappy by her sisters. He plays the role of men discounted by women. Philip Seymour Hoffman also takes on this role but is a main character throughout the movie. These men see themselves as rejected or discounted by women, incorrectly so in their eyes.

Curiously, the flip side is also true. A woman who chases after Hoffman’s character finally states the obvious in the movie and in society: she is fat and ugly. Guys discount her, just like Hoffman’s character is doing. And just like attractive women do to him. He pauses and then asks her out.

The movie shows that happiness is a mask of sorts. The perfect family is not so perfect. People delude themselves into thinking they are happy. Or accept others’ assessment that they cannot be happy. Or they seem to be happy but hide a deep, dark perversion.

The perfect family man, Trish’s husband, is a psychiatrist by day and a serial rapist of boys by night. He recounts to his own psychiatrist a dream of visiting a city park, shooting people randomly with an automatic weapon.

Or the single man played by Hoffman almost pathologically unable to talk to women. Yet he randomly prank calls women in the phone book in strange sexual rants while masturbating.

Or the seemingly sweet woman in the same apartment building as Hoffman who pines for him but confessing to hating sex…and to killing and then cutting into pieces the doorman who raped her.

Happiness is a twisted movie. Be prepared for the unexpected and the inappropriate. For frank discussions between father and son about ejaculation, penis size, and raping boys. Despite its title, the movie shows anything but happiness…until the end, in a scene full of inappropriateness after inappropriateness in quick secession…when Billy, the son of the serial rapist, is truly happy due to achieving a long-awaited milestone of his.

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