Life During Wartime (15)

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The Independent Culture

The Joneses is small beer compared with this portrait of family dysfunction, a sequel to Solondz's Happiness, though with a completely different cast, including a large contingent of British talent.

Joy (Shirley Henderson), eldest of the Jordan sisters, discovers that her husband Allen (formerly Philip Seymour Hoffman, now Michael Kenneth Williams – Omar Little in The Wire) hasn't completely broken his obscene phone-call habit, and she is still haunted by her dead suitor Andy. In Florida, second sister Trish (wonderful Allison Janney) is trying to put the past and her paedophile husband, Bill (Ciaran Hinds), behind her, and falling hard for a short, fat, ugly man in the process. In California, third sister Helen (an unexpectedly sharp Ally Sheedy) has abandoned poetry for the harder, purer discipline of screenplays and is going out with Keanu.

All this takes place in curiously empty, silent rooms and streets, as though everyone is at work or dead – at times, the latter seems more likely. It's bewitching and clever, but heavyhanded: the camera pans very slowly across a room as a message is left on an answerphone, and long before it gets there you just know that there's going to be a dead body; and the incessant repetition of the word "forgive" – doesn't Solondz trust his audience to get it the first time?