Since starting Breaking Bad, one of the most darkly brilliant shows I’ve ever witnessed, I’ve developed something of a passion for dark comedies. There’s just something so appealing about scandal on TV, and the more it’s approached with a clever but subtle sense of humour, the better. Whilst looking for my next fix, I noticed 1998’s Happiness on a list, and decided to watch it completely out of the blue. I’m so glad I did.
Happiness, directed by Todd Solondz, follows the lives of several men and women who all have some sinister aspect of their life that prevents them from achieving happiness. In particular it follows three sisters: a hippy deadbeat Joy, whose tone reminds of Willow from Buffy The Vampire Slayer; Trish, an otherwise happy housewife who is unknowingly married to a paedophile; and Helen, a successful author who writes sensationalist novels, but is unhappy with her own low standards. It’s a bit like an episode of Modern Family, except that it’s much less predictable, and infinitely funnier – in a dark way that is.
At 134 minutes, it’s a fairly long film given its premise, but I enjoyed every minute. The stories twist and turn, and occasionally overlap. Unlike Modern Family where the editing can make the show seem choppy, the scenes are lengthy, to give you the full flavour of each character, no matter how sour they may be. Perhaps my favourite moment in the film is when the resident paedophile is interrogated by his own weeping son, and in the end decides to be brutally honest.
If you like American Beauty, you will love Happiness, perhaps the Love Actually of dark comedy films. For me, this film epitomises the genre and does it well. I’ll definitely be on the lookout for more films like it.