Much of Life During Wartime initially led me to believe it was a postmodern prank whose genesis took this form: “What if I made a sequel to Happiness? God, what a pointless, stupid idea. I’ll do it!”
As Michael Haneke’s Funny Games charges audiences with being complicit in the real-life violence they flock to see fictionalized on screen, Todd Solondz’s Life During Wartime seems to make a mockery of the compulsion to drag new and unnecessary narratives kicking and screaming out of any character that resonates even a little bit. It begins with an almost exact replica of the opening scene from Happiness, and much of what follows clumsily catches us up on what little has transpired in the eleven years since the events of that first film. It doesn’t introduce much new plot of its own; the characters mostly just hover within their familiar neuroses. It’s kind of like professional-grade fan fiction, especially since all of the characters have been recast.
But Solondz is not so lazy as to leave it at that. The characters that breathe new life into the scenario are the children who have grown up in the interim, and it is through them that the complexity of forgiveness emerges as a central theme.
Life During Wartime is not Todd Solondz’s best film, but after the misfires that were Storytelling and Palindromes, it gets back to some of the more interesting territory his brain has to offer.