Happiness (1998)

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Released 13-Mar-2002

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Black Comedy Main Menu Audio
Rating Rated R
Year Of Production 1998
Running Time 133:59
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (76:28) Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 4 Directed By Todd Solondz

Magna Home Entertainment
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
Case Click
RPI $29.95 Music Robbie Kondor

Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame Full Frame English Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio None
16x9 Enhancement No
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.85:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles None Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    If you have come to this review thinking that it will be filled with rainbows and happy people, please stop reading now. This film is titled Happiness as an exercise in irony. It's appropriate enough, though, because so many of the characters in this film are looking for happiness, but in so many wrong ways.

    I have several opinions about this film. I guess you could say that that makes it an effective film, to evoke so many reactions, even if most of them are negative. One of my reactions is a suspicion that this film was scripted quite deliberately to press lots of hot buttons; not to make a valid point, but simply to be controversial. If that's true, then it certainly worked, because the film won a prize at Cannes. OK, that's unfair, because the film is well-made, and it does manage to stay coherent, even though it is tracking several interwoven storylines. It's a shame that those storylines are often about unpleasant things happening to people who are difficult to like (even though those people are portrayed well by skilled actors).

    Let me get over one of the most unpleasant points quickly. This film paints a very sympathetic portrait of a repeat child molester, even letting him claim that he couldn't help it (despite the fact that he made extensive preparations for at least one of his attacks). It goes to considerable trouble to portray him as a caring father (albeit one who has a repeating dream of going to a park with an assault rifle and having a nice little massacre). The scene that most troubles me is (SPOILER ALERT: highlight with mouse to read) the one where he confesses to his son. Not because it's a bad scene, but because the actor playing his son is very young to be saying the lines he has been given. Don't get me wrong — it is an impressive performance by the boy, but I'm not convinced that it's a performance he should have been asked to give.

    This film revolves around a grown family. The parents, Lenny (Ben Gazarra) and Mona (Louise Lasser), are splitting up. The three daughters each have different troubles. Helen (Lara Flynn Boyle) is the successful poet, busy with book signings, whose life is so empty that she wants to explore a relationship with a heavy-breathing caller. Trish (Cynthia Stevenson) is so proud of her nice house and three kids that she's oblivious to everything going on around her. And Joy (Jane Adams) is lost, not knowing what will fill the aching void inside her.

    Other flawed people move around these. There are Helen's neighbours, the lonely and frustrated Allen (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and the lonely and troubled Kristina (Camryn ManHeim). There's Trish's family, including husband Bill (Dylan Baker) and son Billy (Rufus Read — a very good performance from a boy). There are the men in Joy's life, such as Andy (Jon Lovitz) and Vlad (Jared Harris).

    One warning: don't watch this film if you have a problem with the idea that males masturbate. It comes up repeatedly during the film. (Female masturbation isn't mentioned at all.)

    The film is described as a dark comedy. That's not completely accurate, but I can't give you a better description in so few words. Certainly, there are moments of dark comedy, albeit of the "skewer one character and watch them writhe" variety. There are other moments that are simply painful. I can't picture myself recommending it to anyone for enjoyment, and it is most definitely not suitable viewing for children.

    If I hadn't been reviewing this, I doubt I would have finished watching it — there are a lot of films I'd rather watch. But I watched it all the way through to the end. And that's all it does: it ends. There's no closure, no completion, no catharsis. It just stops.

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Transfer Quality


    This DVD is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1, and is not 16x9 enhanced. The intended theatrical ratio was probably 1.85:1. I suspect that this is an open-matte version of the film, particularly given the brief appearance of a boom mike at the top of frame at 118:10. It's a shame we couldn't be accorded a proper wide-screen version.

    The image is fairly sharp. Shadow detail varies, but is never very good; it's particularly bad around 106:28, where Lara Flynn Boyle's black dress vanishes into the dark couch — she looks like a floating head and hand. There is no low-level noise, and minimal film grain.

    Colour is adequate, but never vivid; this may well be intentional, to emphasise the dullness of lives in the dullness of colour. There are no colour-related artefacts as such.

    There are scattered film artefacts, mostly small, but there's an ugly white blotch at 90:24.

    There is some aliasing, mostly quite light. There's one instance of serious moiré on a lampshade, starting about 106:03. There are no MPEG artefacts.

    There are no subtitles.

    The disc is single-sided and dual layered, formatted RSDL. The layer change comes at 76:28, and it is quite obvious.

Video Ratings Summary
Shadow Detail
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts


    The soundtrack is provided in English Dolby Digital 2.0 — there are no other choices on offer.

    The dialogue is clear and comprehensible. There are no obvious audio sync problems.

    Robbie Kondor's score is adequate. There are a number of songs used during the film, some of them to good ironic effect.

    The surrounds get nothing of any significance, even with Prologic decoding enabled. The subwoofer gets nothing to do.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use


    There are no extras.


    The menu is kinda cute, but they tried to save money by combining scene selection into the main menu — it's not the most intuitive of designs. It's not hard to operate, though.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    There seem to have been two offerings in Region 1, both of them letterboxed (meaning not 16x9 enhanced) versions in 1.85:1. Neither is reported as having much in the way of extras, but both have 36 chapter stops (we get 23). Reports I've found don't rate the transfers very highly.

    I have to prefer getting the correct aspect ratio, even if it is not 16x9 enhanced.


    Happiness is a movie I did not enjoy, even if I can admire some of the performances that went into it. It has not been given a good transfer to DVD.

    The video quality is reasonably good, although shadow detail is fairly poor, and it is not in the theatrical aspect ratio.

    The audio quality is good enough.

    There are no extras at all.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Tony Rogers (bio-degrading: making a fool of oneself in a bio...)
Friday, November 21, 2003
Review Equipment
DVDPioneer DV-S733A, using Component output
DisplaySony VPH-G70 CRT Projector, QuadScan Elite scaler (Tripler), ScreenTechnics 110. Calibrated with Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials.
AmplificationDenon AVC-A1SE
SpeakersFront Left, Centre, Right: Krix Euphonix; Rears: Krix KDX-M; Subwoofer: Krix Seismix 5

Other Reviews NONE
Comments (Add)
I found this movie sickeningly depressing -
I am sick of shiny happy people! - REPLY POSTED