Life During Wartime: Todd Soldonz as Demented

Life During Wartime: Todd Soldonz as Demented

Todd Solondz has purposefully crafted a career sitting just to the left of mainstream tastes. He’s not released a wealth of films, but each one he does issue seems to have at least one or two scenes that are so bizarre, the feature’s released is subsumed by talk of its perversity. Well, maybe perversity’s not the right word, but it’s not the wrong one either.

After Happiness, released in 1998, Solondz must have realized that he invented a creepy world full of half failures and utter weirdoes engaging enough to work up another film. It didn’t arrive immediately. In fact, it took almost a decade’s time to write and film Life During Wartime. The time spent honing its odd characters and finding the right wrong cast paid off.

As with anything Solondz does, the film has a surprising angle. It uses the exact same characters – names and all – for this kinda sequel, but recast each role, going so far as to make Philip Seymour Hoffman’s Allen character a black guy, played by Michael Kenneth Williams. It’s not beyond the realm of possibility that Williams, probably best known as Omar from The Wire, was figured as a good choice, because he has three names, just like the guy who initially played Allen. I hope so, at least.

Either, Life During Wartime sports a few scenes that appear to be pretty similar to the previous film, including its opening in which Allen gives his girlfriend a present in the exact same mode as Jon Lovitz’ character did in the earlier feature. Of course, since Allen has a problem with making obscene phone calls, the waitress recognizes him and ruins the evening.

For an opening scene, there might not be a better one to set the tone for the rest of the film – there’s even a bit where a mother tells her son, she got wet when her date touched her elbow. That’s untoward, surely. Anyway, most of the film winds up giving viewers that eerie sinking feeling. And when Bill, Trish’s estranged husband, gets out of jail for raping a few kids, there’s only bound to be more weirdness and perversity.

The character understands he’s already ruined people’s lives, but goes in search of his oldest son to make sure the kid didn’t wind up being a weirdo. It’s not a road movie. And it’s not a film of place. These are all just characters you can’t stop wondering about.