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MOVIE REVIEW
Life During Wartime (2010)

Life-during-wartime-todd-solondz-dylan-riley-snyder
Francisco Román/IFC Films

Todd Solondz’s “Life During Wartime” is a ghost story. It’s not a horror flick, but various specters figuratively or literally haunt the lives of its characters: an absent father, the burdens of family and career, and, yes, a dead person’s disembodied spirit. The sequel to “Happiness,” “Life” revisits the three sisters from the controversial 1998 film. But Mr. Solondz here employs a brand new cast that bares no physical resemblance to the previous one, a strategy recalling the ever-evolving protagonist in “Palindromes.”

Divorcée Trish (Allison Janney) has relocated to sunny Florida and started dating again, while her child-molesting psychiatrist husband Bill (Ciarán Hinds) seeks to reconnect with their children upon his release from prison. Best-selling author Helen (Ally Sheedy) attains new success in Hollywood, and her narcissism and ennui have become proportional to her professional advancement. Neurotic musician Joy (Shirley Henderson), who now dates Helen’s old neighbor and harasser Allen (Michael Kenneth Williams), takes a much needed break from that dysfunctional relationship only to have visions of her deceased ex Andy (Paul Reubens).

The new cast members have the unenviable task of filling the roles that inspired some truly unforgettable performances. While most of the actors are solid enough to let you shut off your inner continuity editor, Mr. Williams’s turn as Allen is clearly no match for Philip Seymour Hoffman’s mouth-breathing pervert. Ms. Henderson, though, outdoes the social ineptitude delivered by her predecessor Jane Adams.

While “Happiness” chillingly depicted how all the characters succumb to desire and rejection, the new film’s theme of their inability to exorcise the ghosts in their lives seems comparatively less grandiose. “Life During Wartime” evidences Mr. Solondz’s maturity mostly because it lacks the shock value of “Happiness,” but it also comes up short in terms of leaving an auteurist mark the way “Palindromes” did.

LIFE DURING WARTIME

Opens on July 23 in Manhattan.

Written and directed by Todd Solondz; director of photography, Ed Lachman; edited by Kevin Messman; production designer, Roshelle Berliner; costumes by Catherine George; produced by Christine Kunewa Walker and Derrick Tseng; released by IFC Films. Running time: 1 hour 37 minutes. This film is not rated. WITH: Shirley Henderson (Joy), Ciaran Hinds (Bill), Gaby Hoffman (Wanda), Allison Janney (Trish), Michael Lerner (Harvey), Chris Marquette (Billy), Charlotte Rampling (Jacqueline), Rich Pecci (Mark), Paul Reubens (Andy), Ally Sheedy (Helen), Dylan Riley Snyder (Timmy), Renée Taylor (Mona) and Michael Kenneth Williams (Allen).

WITH: Shirley Henderson (Joy), Ciaran Hinds (Bill), Gaby Hoffman (Wanda), Allison Janney (Trish), Michael Lerner (Harvey), Chris Marquette (Billy), Charlotte Rampling (Jacqueline), Rich Pecci (Mark), Paul Reubens (Andy), Ally Sheedy (Helen), Dylan Riley Snyder (Timmy), Renée Taylor (Mona) and Michael Kenneth Williams (Allen).

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