Life During Wartime – not to be confused with the Talking Heads song – is the latest project from writer-director Todd Solondz, who specializes in introspective tragicomedy. It premieres at the Venice Film Festival between now and Sept. 12, competing for the Golden Lion with more than 20 films.
Solondz’s finest film Happiness was a hilariously sad ensemble piece about three middle-class New Jersey sisters who have problems with their families and sex lives. It was originally rated NC-17 in 1998, then its rating was ‘surrendered,’ meaning the MPAA essentially gave up and it now has no rating. With Life During Wartime, He has chosen to revisit the miserable set of characters, one a pedophile (originally played by Dylan Baker) and one a pervert (originally played by Phillip Seymour Hoffman), with an entirely new cast.
Solondz told the Associated Press the film is more political than the first and he craved the freedom to play around with his characters. “If I wanted to make a white character black. Some characters age 20 years, some five,” he said.
"I guess it's something of a post traumatic stress disorder kind of movie genre," Solondz told reporters. "I didn't ever think I'd go back to them. They weren't haunting me. Once I started writing I think what I needed was to feel free to play with these characters in any way I wanted to."
The new cast features Allison Janney, Michael Lerner, Michael K. Williams (replacing Hoffman), Shirley Henderson and Charlotte Rampling.
Since Happiness was possibly the most overlooked and brilliant black comedy of the ‘90s, I think this comeback for Solondz, who hasn’t made a film since the hit-or-miss experiment Palindromes in 2004, will finally generate much deserved attention to his work. Welcome to the Dollhouse and the second half of Storytelling are also gems in his catalogue.