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The Independent Culture
Happiness (18), to rent

For his second feature, Todd Solondz returns to the same suburban hunting- ground which proved so bountiful in his debut, Welcome to the Dollhouse. This time, the crushingly anonymous urban landscape of New Jersey provides the backdrop to a pitch-black portrait of three sisters and the near-grotesques that comprise their friends, family and neighbours.

Initially, Solondz seems content to wring from this roster of sex pests, philanderers and ne'er-do-wells a steady and, it must be said, very funny stream of dark comedy; at times, the care with which he fleshes his characters' each and every sociopathic defect is painful to behold.

It's Dylan Baker's married psychiatrist, however, who endows the film with its moments of true emotional depth. Apparently a model father, he's revealed to be an abuser of his young son's friends. Again, it is treated as comic at first, but Solondz, little by little, substitutes the queasy laughs for a genuinely complex study of the father's awful compulsion, helped, of course, by stunning work from Baker.

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