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(Review originally written at 15 December 2006)

How come that this movie was completely overlooked by most big award ceremonies? Probably because of its controversial subjects. It's brilliantly written and directed and brilliantly acted out by its cast members. It's perhaps the most overlooked movies from the '90's and is on a level of brilliance I haven't seen a movie on for a long time. This is one of those movies that grabs and doesn't let go. It makes you forget the time and everything else that is happening around you. I haven't watched a movie in that way since like forever. It made "Happiness" a truly unique viewing experience that left a big impression. The movie kept me thinking for hours afterward and I could hardly sleep because of it.

Here they are; characters we often hear and read about in the papers and on TV. Characters we simply think of as being unsympathetic monsters, we don't want to spend too much thoughts about. I'm talking about pedophiles and phone sex masturbaters, among others. This movie shows that in truth often those people are nothing more than common persons, with a good job, money and a family of their own. They could be a colleague of yours, a neighbor or even a family member. A person you think you know but without ever truly knowing what is going on in their heads and what their perverted sexual fantasies and preferences are. The movie shows that these sort of things could happen in your neighborhood or somebody you know. It's shocking and confronting but of course closer to the truth then them just being cold-hearted ruthless monsters, even though the thought of it is strangely more comforting. The fact that it all are 'ordinary' persons is far more shocking. None of the characters wants to be that way, they just ARE that way.

"Happiness" does a good job at creating a realistic environment and story lines and connecting all those different lines together in the movie. The movie follows multiple different characters and therefor also story lines but the movie never gets disjointed even though of course every storyline has its weaker and less interesting moments. It also doesn't make the movie confusing or unnecessary hard to follow, like some other directors would probably have done with the story (Alejandro González Iñárritu or Steven Soderbergh springs to mind.) The movie instead chooses a light comedy like approach. Comedies really don't get darker than this. Despite its heavy subjects, the movie is also still fun to watch, with some great funny moments. It in a way makes the movie also more accessible to a wider range of audience.

The movie is of course also truly uplifted by its fine cast. Even actors who I normally don't really like (like Lara Flynn Boyle) were just great. While watching this movie it made me realize something; Philip Seymour Hoffman is probably my favorite actor at the moment. What can I say, he's just great! I'm glad he finally won an Oscar last year. Finally true recognition for one of the best actors in the business, not just now but of all time. But it in all honesty is Dylan Baker who gives the best performance. He without doubt plays the toughest role of the movie, a married, with children, psychiatrist pedophile. He manages to make the character in a way more accessible and understandable. Especially the sequences with his teenage son, who is starting to discover his own sexuality, are greatly done and very powerful, especially toward the end of the movie. Also Jane Adams delivers a notable performance, as a (too) kind person who gets exploited by others because of it. The pain and inner-conflicts of the characters as portrayed in this movie are almost sensible.

If you want to or not, this movie makes you look differently at the world and the sexual 'perverts' we hear and read about. It therefor makes "Happiness" a powerful and effective, thought provoking portrayal, of real life humane characters.

10/10

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About Frank Veenstra

Watches movies...writes about them...and that's it for now.
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