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Happiness (1998 film)

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Title: Happiness (1998 film)  
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Subject: Todd Solondz, Lara Flynn Boyle, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Jared Harris, 1998 New York Film Critics Circle Awards
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia

Happiness (1998 film)

Theatrical release poster
Directed by Todd Solondz
Produced by David Linde
James Schamus
Written by Todd Solondz
Starring Jane Adams
Elizabeth Ashley
Dylan Baker
Lara Flynn Boyle
Ben Gazzara
Jared Harris
Philip Seymour Hoffman
Louise Lasser
Jon Lovitz
Camryn Manheim
Rufus Read
Cynthia Stevenson
Music by Robbie Kondor
Cinematography Maryse Alberti
Edited by Alan Oxman
Distributed by Good Machine
Release dates
  • October 16, 1998 (1998-10-16)
Running time 139 minutes[1]
Country United States
Language English
Budget $3 million
Box office $2,807,390[2]

Happiness is a 1998 American comedy-drama film written and directed by Todd Solondz, that portrays the lives of three sisters, their families and those around them. The film was awarded the FIPRESCI Prize at the 1998 Cannes Film Festival for "its bold tracking of controversial contemporary themes, richly-layered subtext, and remarkable fluidity of visual style," and the cast received the National Board of Review award for best ensemble performance.[3]

The film spawned the pseudo-sequel Life During Wartime which premiered at the 2009 Venice Film Festival.


  • Plot 1
  • Cast 2
  • Music 3
  • Release 4
    • Controversy 4.1
    • Critical reception 4.2
    • Awards 4.3
  • References 5
  • External links 6


Trish Maplewood, the eldest Jordan sister, is an upper middle class housewife happily married to psychiatrist Bill Maplewood and has three children. Unbeknownst to Trish, however, Bill is a pedophile. He develops an obsession with 11-year-old Johnny Grasso, a classmate of his son, Timmy. When Johnny comes for a sleepover, Bill drugs Johnny and then sodomizes him while he is unconscious. Later, he learns that another boy, Ronald Farber, is home alone while his parents are away in Europe. Under the guise of attending a PTA meeting, Bill drives to the boy's house and rapes him. After Johnny is taken to the hospital and found to have been sexually abused, the police arrive at the Maplewood residence to question Bill. After alerting his wife to the police presence, Bill begins by asking the two detectives, "You said something about Ronald Farber?" The two detectives, looking puzzled, say nothing. Bill then stammers, "I mean, Johnny Grasso." Out on bail, he tearfully admits to Timmy that he abused the boys, that he enjoyed it, and that he would do it again. When Timmy asks, "Would you ever fuck me?", his father replies, "No... I'd jerk off instead."

Helen Jordan, the middle sister, is a successful author who is adored and envied by everyone she knows, and can have any man she wants. Her charmed life leaves her ultimately unfulfilled, however, and she despairs that no one wants her for herself, and that the praise regularly heaped upon her is undeserved. She is fascinated by an unknown man who makes obscene and abusive phone calls to her apartment and tries to seek out a relationship with him. But she is disappointed when she finds out the man is her neighbor Allen, whom she is not attracted to. Allen ultimately sinks into depression as Helen's rejection ruins his fantasies, and he realizes that a woman who truly cares for him, Kristina, has been right under his nose all along.

Joy, the youngest sister, is seen by her family as overly sensitive and lacking direction. She works in telephone sales, but leaves to do something more fulfilling: teaching at an immigrant-education center. Her students call her a scab because their original teacher was striking, and she begins to feel empty in that job too. Joy is also constantly let down in her personal life. After a rejected suitor, Andy, calls Joy shallow at the beginning of the film and then goes on to kill himself, Helen tries to set her up with other men. Expecting to hear from a suitor, she instead gets an obscene call from Allen. Later one of her Russian students, Vlad, offers her a ride in his taxi and they end up having sex. She is initially smitten, but she soon realizes Vlad was using her and that he may be married. After being attacked by his wife and lending him $500 in return for her musical instruments, she is back to being alone.

Finally, the sisters' parents, Mona and Lenny, are separating after 40 years of marriage, but will not get divorced. Lenny is bored with his marriage, but does not want to start another relationship; he simply "wants to be alone." As Mona copes with being single during her twilight years, Lenny tries to rekindle his enthusiasm for life by having an affair with a neighbor. It is no use, however, as Lenny eventually finds that he has become incapable of feeling. The only person who seems happy at the end is Timmy, who throughout the film attempts to make himself ejaculate and finally succeeds.



Robbie Kondor wrote the film's score.

Eytan Mirsky wrote the title track Happiness. The actress Jane Adams sings it in a scene in the film; Michael Stipe and Rain Phoenix sing it over the credits.

The following music is played in the film:



The film was highly controversial for its heavy sexual themes, particularly its portrayal of pedophilia. The Sundance Film Festival refused to accept the film, alleging it to be too disagreeable.[4]

Happiness received an NC-17 rating from the MPAA, and that caused the film to be limited in distribution; the film also had difficulty in advertising. For that particular reason, Happiness surrendered its NC-17 rating and was instead released unrated. The poster art was done by comic book creator Daniel Clowes.[5]

Critical reception

Roger Ebert gave the film four out of four stars, and rated it #5 in his top 10 films of 1998. In his review, he wrote: "...the depraved are only seeking what we all seek, but with a lack of ordinary moral vision... In a film that looks into the abyss of human despair, there is the horrifying suggestion that these characters may not be grotesque exceptions, but may in fact be part of the mainstream of humanity....It is not a film for most people. It is certainly for adults only. But it shows Todd Solondz as a filmmaker who deserves attention, who hears the unhappiness in the air and seeks its sources."[6]

In a letter written to playwright Robert Patrick, Quentin Crisp stated that Happiness "mistook pleasure for happiness and was quite absurd".[7]



  1. ^ (18)"HAPPINESS".  
  2. ^ (1998)"Happiness". Box Office Mojo. IMDb. Retrieved May 29, 2013
  3. ^ – Awards"Happiness". IMDb. Retrieved February 6, 2014.
  4. ^ di Todd Solondz: quando la felicità è una chimera…"Happiness". Published at Cinema 10.
  5. ^ "Daniel Clowes Biography".
  6. ^ review"Happiness".  
  7. ^ Robert Patrick, Letters from Quentin Crisp, New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, The Billy Rose Theater Collection.

External links

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