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Dream a Little Dream

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For the record, I wanted to surrender to this dream; I didn’t want to be out in the cold, alone. But I truly have no idea what so many people are raving about. It’s as if someone went into their heads while they were sleeping and planted the idea that Inception is a visionary masterpiece and—hold on … Whoa! I think I get it. The movie is a metaphor for the power of delusional hype—a metaphor for itself.

Todd Solondz’s Life During Wartime is a genuine, all-enveloping bad-dream movie, and I’m still wrestling with its squirmy mix of grotesquerie and humanism, stylized camp and acid realism. It’s a sequel to Solondz’s queasy 1998 Happiness, a broad satire of Jewish-suburban life with a subplot about a doctor who molests little boys. Life During Wartime has the same characters but none of the same actors, and the tone and look are different—less glib, more malignant. Largely set in Florida and L.A., the film bears no traces of the natural world: Everything is artificially colored and overbaked. Jane Adams, who played the youngest of three warped sisters, has been replaced by Shirley Henderson, the gap more vivid between her twittery little-girl voice and withering demeanor. Lara Flynn Boyle’s husky-toned sexpot has aged into a drawn and twitchy Ally Sheedy. Cynthia Stevenson has been elongated into Allison Janney in full-tilt delirium. The male actors (Paul Reubens, Michael Kenneth Williams, Michael Lerner, Ciarán Hinds) either are ghosts or might as well be; they’re finished. Stars of David, flags of Israel, images of carnage in Gaza show up in the background, but they’re not belabored. Solondz conjures a world that’s rotting away from the inside, in which only the children—freckle-faced Dylan Riley Snyder and Emma Hinz—weep over the loss of moral authority. This might be some kind of goddamned masterpiece, but I’m not sure I want to watch it again to say for sure.

Inception
Warner Bros. Pictures. PG-13.

Life During Wartime
IFC Films. NR.

E-mail: filmcritic@newyorkmag.com.


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