Friday, May 24, 2013

Life During Wartime

In Life During Wartime, filmmaker Todd Solondz revisits his story of the Maplewood family, torn apart in 1998 by the father, Bill Maplewood. When the film begins, Bill has just been released from prison where he served time for raping his son's tweenage friend. Bill's family has relocated to Florida and now Trish Maplewood (Allison Janney) is dating Harv Weiner (!) After suffering from an emotional breakdown, Trish's little sister visits from New Jersey and tries to fit her life back together. Meanwhile, Trish and Bill's son is preparing for his Bar Mitzvah and trying to figure out what it means to be a man.
Seeing this particular Solondz film was like attending a freaky family reunion- many of the same characters were there (Harv and Mark Weiner!), and throughout the experience the viewer remembers the sad histories of these people whose lives have slowly crumbled in front of the camera. In the end, life marches on and there is no resolution, only that we all must press on and hope that the future brings brighter days. I truly enjoy Solondz's episodic storytelling and his John Waters-esque ability to bring realness to equally campy-and maudlin-characters. Although this film was called the sequel to Happiness, there are references to characters and events from many of his previous films. Like a family reunion, there were members who were only present in spirit and they were sorely missed. I am still sad that Dawn Weiner offed herself at the beginning of Palindromes, and I always have to wonder what became of little prima ballerina Missy, who has been MIA since Welcome to the Dollhouse.
Seeing this film at the Brooklyn Academy of Music theater was the capstone to my 24th birthday weekend, spent with friends in New York City. Birthdays always make me look backwards and forwards at the same time, to see where I've been and where I may be headed. Life During Wartime had the same effect, for as ridiculous and unreal as Solondz makes his suburban characters and plots, I always find myself moving between past and future as I watch the drama of their lives unfold on screen. It's impossible to leave his films unimpressed with his ability to capture this phenomenon, to hold his viewer in a sense of simultaneous discord and harmony. Like Buddhists, we can only accept this moment, character flaws and pedophiles not excluded.