Allison Janney and Dylan Riley Snyder in a tale of family dysfunction. (Werc Werk Works)
There seems to be a competition among filmmakers as to who can come up with the most alarmingly dysfunctional family.
Writer-director Todd Solondz became a frontrunner in this race in 1998 with his tale of suburban suicide and pedophilia, "Happiness." Now he's back with the sequel "Life During Wartime," featuring different actors playing the same characters, members of the massively messed up Jordan family.
The question is: Who wants to watch these people?
Suicide and pedophilia are still center stage in the lives of the three grown Jordan sisters. Trish (Allison Janney) has moved to Florida with her kids to shed the stain of her pedophile husband Bill (Ciaran Hinds), who, unbeknown to all, is getting out of prison as the film opens.
Younger sister Joy (Shirley Henderson) is still haunted by the suicide of a former suitor (Paul Reubens) as she breaks up with Allen (Michael K. Williams). And successful fully neurotic screenwriter sister Helen (Ally Sheedy) is dating (an unseen) Keanu Reeves.
Meanwhile, Timmy (Dylan Riley Snyder), the youngest son of Trish and Bill, has come to realize his father isn't dead, he's been in prison, and dad's reputation is the hot gossip at his school. Mommy, what does pedophile mean?
Now, doesn't your family seem sane?
You have to wonder where Solondz is going with all this, and why he's going there. "Happiness" was disturbing, but also somewhat ground-breakingly edgy. "Wartime" is pretty much just disturbing and edgy for edgy's sake.
Solondz has a great eye for dark humor, and "Life During Wartime" is certainly effectively awful. But again, who wants effectively awful?