Ironic, detached, "controversial" guy who's kind of interesting.
Welcome to the Dollhouse (1995) -- A nerd-coming-of-age movie that people claim is an "honest" and "accurate" depiction of junior high, though it seems to me a purposefully exaggerated view. Solondz never portrays anything as honest or accurate (that's part of his fun), so I can't say I side with most of what I hear about this movie in that regard. However, also like most, I think the movie is funny and interesting and pretty smart. I don't much like coming-of-age movies in general (it says too much about the creators being stuck in childhood, which kind of annoys me), but this one surpasses that genre with a great character played by Heather Matarazzo. Notably, this is the last of the Solondz movies which I think might be considered "mainstream." B
Happiness (1998) -- Todd Solondz's best movie and the one where his "tone" works the most successfully. Just as Welcome to the Dollhouse was an exaggerated look at abnormal teens, Happiness is an exaggerated look at abnormal adults. And please don't give me that "under the surface of suburbia" crap, because it's just not true. I mean, the movie deals with a pedophile and a guy who makes obscene phone calls, and unless you're willing to say that that's what we all are underneath, then that boring argument falls apart. What we have, instead, is a bunch of interesting and complicated characters that Solondz skillfully weaves together (also artificially, in the best sense of the word), leaving us with an overall impression that stays in our heads for a long time after the movie is over. Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Jon Lovitz (together at last) are especially good. The movie is directed with a flatness and distance that's pitch perfect here but somewhat annoying in Solondz's later movies (not to mention countless other imitators who are even more annoying), and it also leaves us with a strange but real sense of happiness by the end. A
Storytelling (2001) -- Todd Solondz took the flatness of delivery approach again, but this time to an annoying level, and with a constant winking at us concerning what he's doing. Lots of the movie is in response to critics who have pointed out his style of manipulation (while, again, manipulating: characters with cerebral palsy, the "nigger, fuck me hard" scene, etc.), and some of it is a parody of people who have attempted to mimic his style (or have added a layer of bullshit on top of that style), specifically the movie American Beauty, right down to the floating garbage. Unlike Happiness, which was gleefully original and content to be what it was, this one is too self-aware and offers up a series of "lessons" he feels his audience needs to learn. Once you figure out that the section titled "Fiction" is really nonfiction and the section titled "Nonfiction" is really fiction, you've basically gone as deep as this movie goes. Of course, the movie is still semi-interesting to watch: if nothing else, you have to figure out what's wrong with it; it doesn't have the same sorts of badness as a normal bad movie. C
Palindromes (2004) -- The movie begins with a little girl wanting to get pregnant and ends with a little girl wanting to get pregnant. So the movie itself is a palindrome, which probably isn't the best narrative arc, but there you go for story. This is one of those movies that attempts to raise questions rather than answer them. In this case, the questions are of childhood pregnancy, abortion, redemption of criminals (in this case, pedophiles), religion, and a handful of other issues. The problem is that Solondz, while attempting to be nonjudgmental, actually does what lots of people incorrectly do: only show two extreme sides of the issue. So when he shows the anti-abortion characters, of course they're religious "Jesus freaks" (in this case literally, since Solondz parades around his now-usual cast of actors with disabilities) who murder abortion doctors. And when he shows pro-choicers, of course they're bad parents who eat organic food and get careless abortions so that they can afford to buy their first daughter a Gap account. So, as always with Solondz, there's no middle, only the extreme. To cover up some of these holes, there's plenty of cinematic jazz: the most obvious being the main character being played by eight different actors (something that partially works, but mostly makes you wish he'd have just stuck with whoever your favorite one was). If you forgive the movie's many shortcomings, however, and just watch it as a piece of entertainment, it's not half bad (something you can't really say of Storytelling) and keeps your interest throughout, with a main character (no matter who she's played by) that gains your sympathy. In spite of my increasing annoyance with Todd Solondz, I still think he's doing interesting work and he's almost always nice to watch, and with this movie, he's heading in a better direction. B
Copyright (c) Jun 2001 - Nov 2005 by Rusty Likes Movies