"Life During Wartime," Todd Solondz's sequel to his subversive 1998 drama "Happiness," hits theaters this Friday. I've seen the new movie twice now, most recently on the same day that I rewatched "Happiness," and feel convinced that much of the its appeal comes from both familiarity with and affinity for the twisted world that Solondz has created to encompass all his work. In an essay published today on indieWIRE, I consider the entirety of Solondz's output, from his student thesis film to "Wartime," as a single accomplishment that I've dubbed "the Solondzverse." Here are a few key moments from it:
Dawn Considers Her Shortcomings: "Welcome to the Dollhouse" remains Solondz's most famous movie, and one of the best to tap into the anxieties of adolescent alienation. Dawn Wiener can't get no respect, and in the heartbreaking clip above, she finally realizes why.
Conan O'Brien Visits the Solondzverse: Solondz's "Storytelling" is an undervalued gem that goes far darker (particularly with its final shot), and Conan O'Brien doesn't get the credit he deserves for lending a cameo for this unsettling fantasy sequence.
Father-Son Love, Sorta: This confrontation from "Happiness" forces its two skilled actors to take an ostensibly absurd exchange and turn it into a devastating, palpably uncomfortable reality. They did it.
The "Happiness" Cometh: "Happiness" built on the bleak vision Solondz first unleashed in feature-length format with "Dollhouse," but managed for the first time to suggest his own lopsided vision of a happy ending with this memorable gross-out finale.