Life During Wartime (2009)

life during wartime poster 2009 movie
7.5 Overall Score
Story: 7/10
Acting: 9/10
Visuals: 9/10

Movie that makes you think

Solondz vision is unique but just not as developed as his earlier movies

Movie Info

Movie Name:  Life During Wartime

Studio:  Werc Werk Works

Genre(s):  Drama/Comedy

Release Date(s):  September 3, 2009 (Venice)/July 23, 2010 (U.S.)

MPAA Rating:  R


This is not going to end well.

The Jordans have problems.  Joy Jordan (Shirley Henderson) is married to Allen (Michael Kenneth Williams), a man addicted to marrying obscene calls while trying to get past the suicide of her boyfriend Andy (Paul Reubens).  Trish Jordan (Allison Janney) is trying to get past her husband Bill (Ciaran Hinds) conviction of child molestation.  She is adjusting to life in Florida and dating a divorced man named Harvey Wiener (Michael Lerner) who has his own problems with his son Mark (Rich Pecci).  Trish’s problems are increased by her son Timmy (Dylan Riley Snyder) who has no knowledge of his father’s crimes.  Helen Jordan (Ally Sheedy) is living in California as a success but hates her life.  When Bill is released from prison and Timmy learns the truth about his father, things are going to change.


This Playhouse is no fun!

Directed by Todd Solondz, Life During Wartime is a black-comedy that really emphasizes the darkness and the drama.  It received some recognition for its script and ensemble cast and has been released by Criterion in a special edition DVD and Blu-Ray (Criterion #574).

If you’ve never experienced a Todd Solondz film, I wouldn’t recommend starting with this one.  Most of Solondz films are connected one way or another and this movie connects to both Happiness (1998) and Welcome to the Dollhouse (1995).  While the film does have a lot of merits it is worth seeing the other films to see how they connect (also connecting to Palindromes through the Weiner family).  Forgiveness was floated around as a possible title and that fits in with the sequel aspect of the film…to really understand the characters pain and suffering, you have to know what happened in Happiness.


Just another day in the park!

The film serves a direct sequel to Happiness but recasts all of the actors (and moves the film from New Jersey to Florida).  This is an odd twist that Solondz also did within the movie Palindromes to emphasize character over actor, but it is a little less effective here with the time difference between this movie and the previous films.  It simply feels like they couldn’t regroup the original cast.  That being said, everyone is fantastic even if the characters don’t really get a chance to do much.  An example would be the great Alison Janney who is a much more sympathetic Trish as opposed to Cynthia Stevenson, but a character like Helen doesn’t feel very developed in this film.


Pedophiles are terrorists?

Solondz has a great vision for his films and they all look fantastic.  The movie has such a bleakness that the locations seem sad and depressing.  Some of the vivid dream imagery of the characters really works to liven up…Solondz reminds me a lot of other directors from his period including Wes Anderson and Paul Thomas Anderson, but Solondz always seem grittier and dirtier.

An interesting theme brought up in the story is what is forgivable.  Is a terrorist worse than a pedophile?  Can either be forgiven?  The movie doesn’t really provide any answers, but it does present the weird conundrum of the situation that could actually have a person liking a terrorist who killed hundreds more than a pedophile…It does make you think about the situation and a movie that makes you think does go higher in my books than a movie that just gives answers.

This isn’t my favorite Todd Solondz movie (that by far is the great Welcome to the Dollhouse), but like most of his movies I admire that he tackles subjects that don’t always get covered.  I can’t recommend this movie to a lot of people because the subjects presented in it are just too tough…and this is probably one of the easier of his movies because nothing really bad happens in it.  Check it out if you are a fan of Solondz, but don’t expect to have fun watching it in a group.

Related Links:

Welcome to the Dollhouse (1995)

Happiness (1998)

Storytelling (2001)

Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

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