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Happiness Reviews

No, it's not a wonderful life, and the world can be an awful place: A sinkhole brimming with loneliness, cruelty, depravity and human monsters who prey on small children. The world, that is, according to director Todd Solondz (WELCOME TO THE DOLLHOUSE), whose blistering, brilliantly transgressive satire is sure to rattle even the most jaded filmgoer. It's also a remarkably compassionate profile of American life at its most desperate. At the center of the sprawling, multicharacter story are three New Jersey sisters: Joy, single, doomed to bad dates and an unfulfilling job, suspects the world's hostility is focused entirely on her and isn't entirely wrong. Helen (Lara Flynn Boyle) is a self-obsessed best-selling poet who's sick and tired of all the adoration, while self-complacent Trish (Cynthia Stevenson) thinks she has it all: Three kids, beautiful suburban home, successful psychiatrist husband (Dylan Baker). But beneath her glamorous bluster Helen is plagued by artistic self-doubt -- "If only I'd been raped as a child," she muses, "Then I would know authenticity!" -- and is courting a sadistic obscene phone-caller (Philip Seymour Hoffman). And Trish's dream life is a nightmare she's about to wake up to: Her husband is a predatory pedophile. This is the America of JonBenet Ramsey, Neil LaBute and Geraldo, where movies, talk shows and tabloid news moralize while packaging pain and human suffering for easy consumption. Good for voyeuristic thrills and some sick-day laughs -- but where, the film asks, is the pity and outrage? In the most revealing moment of a film full of them (thanks to Solondz's acute script and extraordinary cast), Joy wonders whether Helen might be able to turn a horrible tragedy into a poem. Helen laughs in her sister's face, but quickly adds that she's laughing with Joy, not at her. But Joy wasn't trying to be funny, and neither, in the end, is Solondz.