Monday, March 22, 2010

My Year in Distrubing Film: week 12 - Happy Happy Joy Joy

My year in disturbing film is my weekly column where I devote a few paragraphs to the most fucked up films ever made. Each week I plan on subjecting myself to the most horrific and mentally damaging imagery my mind can handle. I can't promise you this won't be the week I wind up in the hospital...

HERE is a reminder about my rating system for these films

Hmmm so what torment is in store for me this week...

Happiness – The story of one fucked up family

What is the movie about?
Happiness is a long and kind of complicated story. Todd Solondz is notorious for doing this and it’s most apparent in Happiness. The film revolves mostly around one family, the Jordans, it also revolves are each member’s immediate family and a few connected characters. The web this film weaves is intricate and somehow everyone is connected. It’s a story of love (for underage boys), hate and frank discussions between a father and his son.

Is the film disturbing?
Happiness has what can only be described as the greatest opening scene in the history of film. Jon Lovitz (yes, THAT Jon Lovitz) plays Andy and his girlfriend has just dumped him. Who’s his girlfriend you ask? Joy Jordan. It’s unclear why she’s breaking up with him, but it leads up to one of the greatest rants ever filmed. ”You think I’m shit” Andy says “but I’m champagne, you’re shit and you will always be shit” it’s seriously the best performance I’ve ever seen Lovitz perform as well as a great way to start off a film about happiness or more appropriately, the lack thereof.


Allen (Philip Seymour Hoffman) is a loser who tells his shrink how he wants to fuck a woman who lives in his building till cum spurts out her mouth. We find out that this woman is Helen Jordan (Lara Flynn Boyle). Allen is such a loser that his shrink is writing up a grocery list in his head while he talks. Allen makes prank phone calls for fun. He masturbates while he talks to the woman and then shoots his load on the wall and uses it to stick a postcard to the wall (yeah classy fellow). One of the women he happens to prank is one Joy Jordan, she inanely chatters on thinking it’s a man her sister (Helen) had told to call her. Joy is a little slow on the uptake, but we’ll forgive her. She only figures out that Allen is pranking her when he starts asking her about her underpants and when she does figure it out he asks her is her pussy is wet and then cums.

Do you have prince albert in a can? Oh that's so hot!

It’s at this point when we’re introduced to Trish; she’s the middle sister of the family (though that’s never confirmed, she just seems like the middle sister to me). She’s trying to convince Joy to eat red meat for some reason. Seemingly out of nowhere we see the shrink from the beginning walking through a park shooting people with an assault rifle. We discover that this is Bill (Dylan Baker) and he’s discussing a recurring dream he has with his shrink. Only this time he says he’s happy at the end of the dream because he didn’t kill himself at the end of the dream. I’ve always said that mental health providers are more screwed up than their patients. We then learn that he’s Trish’s husband and that the two of them never have sex. We’re immediately treated to the why in that situation when Bill stops at a drug store and picks up a teenybopper magazine and jerks it in the back seat of his car to the pictures (of young boys).

Billy is Bill’s son and he’s depressed, Billy has some of the most fucked up dialog in the film, he also has some of the hardest scenes to watch. It’s a testament to the actor Rufus Read who played the character. You see, Billy is an eleven-year-old boy so Rufus must have been similar in age when he played him. Billy is upset because he’s the only boy in his class who hasn’t come yet. Of course he has to ask his dad what “cum” is (in the first of a series of frank, open, honest, and downright disturbing conversations the boy has with his dad).

So son, any of your friends get boners today? did you get pictures?

We’re next introduced to Mona and Lenny, the mother and father Jordan (Louise Lasser and Ben Gazzara) Lenny wants to separate from Mona. Mona and Lenny are the closest thing to “normal” in this film. They fight like and old couple, but frankly Mona’s just a sad sight and Lenny has become emotionless in his old age. Helen Jordan is a successful writer, it’s at this point where we finally learn that she’s one of the Jordans, she bemoans about having to give interviews. Basically she’s a pretty standard bitch.

Kristina (Camryn Manheim) is interested in Allen, you can tell immediately. She tells him about how the night doorman had been murdered and how they were collecting for the funeral. She mentions that his penis was cut off, which of course illicits the only correct response of “ugh” and then as a tasty follow up asks Allen if he wants to go to the playoffs with her, he turns her down. Remember Andy from the beginning? No? That’s ok no one he worked with remembered him either. Well he killed himself and the police call Joy to let her know. They said he left a note, but never read it. It’s too bad really. I bet it was interesting. This throws Joy into a funk and she decides to start working with refugees, teaching them English. It’s here that she meets Vlad, but more on him later.

Billy plays on his local baseball team and Bill cheers him on. Johnny is one of Billy teammates and when he goes up to bat Bill is smitten. It’s these little moments like when Bill longingly stares at Johnny that is a good chunk of why this movie is so screwed up. Johnny asks if he can sleep over and his father says it’s all right. Actually it’s more like “what the fuck do I care?” he’s only worried about Johnny being gay. Johnny is “a little girlie” as Billy describes it.

It's ok Johnny, I just have to stop at the store for some, I mean ice cream, yeah ice cream

There’s so much more insane disturbing shit that happens in this film that I’ll give you the cliff notes edition. We find out that Kristina killed the night door man after he raped her (have you noticed a trend yet? How many of these films deal with rape?). Speaking of rape Bill rapes Johnny after drugging him and then later rapes another boy from Billy’s school who claimed to have an eleven-inch penis. Vlad fucks Joy and then steals a bunch of her things, when she gets them back it’s only because he convinces her to give him money.

Joy Jordan, picker of great guys since 1976

Billy and his dad discuss penis size and masturbation, in depth. They also discuss, this is the hardest scene in the film to watch, how the father raped the boys and Billy asks if he would ever rape him. Thankfully he says no, but the follow up doesn’t make it any better “I would just jerk off”. Helen and Allen do finally get together for about a minute after he calls her and tells her he’s going to rape her, but he’s not her type so nothing happens.

"You're not my type"

Last, but certainly not least, Billy finally cums while yanking it on the balcony to his grandparent’s house staring at hot girls sunbathing. Oh and then he announces to his family that he came. The movie delves into just about every disturbing subject you can think of (though not in a Salo sort of way) and the only person who ends the movie happy is Billy. Good for you young man, good for you!

Hey son, I hear you came...did you save it?

Happiness is so fucked up in so many ways. It’s one of those films I think everyone should see once, just to see if it messes him or her up mentally. It’s not a shocking film at all, but manages the most frank discussions of fucked up issues I’ve ever seen on film. This was my fourth time watching it and loved it just as much this time as I did the first (which was in 1998 when I saw it in the theater, imagine seeing this with an audience?). One of my favorite aspects of the film is the discussion of how no one knows the real you, but as soon as you meet a person who does (most notably in the case of Allen and Helen) you realize that they’re not you’re type or that you don’t get them. It’s a pretty amazing film.

5 Graphic Cum shots out of 5

Disturbitude: 8, we’re talking about two plus hours of disturbing situations thrown at you. If anyone could put you in therapy, it’s Todd Solondz.

Next Up. Pi – you’d be better off without a piece of this one.

P.S. there are actually TWO graphic cum shots in this film. One of them is from Billy at the end of the film which also happens to be the most disgusting one because the dog licks it up off the railing and then runs into the house and Trish gives the dog a big kiss on the mouth. Try to get that image out of your head.


  1. Hey there Momar.

    Glad to see you did a review on Happiness. Good job on your summation of the general dynamics, but I think you were a bit unfair in omitting that the film has incredibly well handled emotional content that weaves the taboo subject matter together.

    Solondz is an expert in camouflaging disturbing material with humor, but he always has very authentic characters. His pedophiles and bully's are multi-dimensional and challenge the audiences want for simplicity. None the less, thanks for reminding us about Happiness.

    You should do Fear, Anxiety and Depression next. The musical "I'm a neat kind of guy" sequence is hilarious.

  2. I agree with everything you just said, but when I write up the "disturbing" films I try to keep it in the eye of the newcomer. How they may perceive the film and how it might affect them. You and I have a long history with this sort of thing, so we can sit back and appreciate the finer details instead of focusing on the broader aspect of it.

    though maybe I did simplify it a tad, still an amazing movie nonetheless and I will add fear, anxiety and depression to my list of films to watch (though my "disturbing movie" list is already set in stone).

    Feedback is always appreciated

  3. Sorry to come down on you. You're probably right about these new cinema wimps.

  4. nah Dave, I didn't take it like that at all. I always enjoy open discussion of films on the blog and wish more people would do it.