On Wednesday night, IFC Films hosted the premiere of Todd Solondz’s latest film, Life During Wartime, in downtown Manhattan. Seeing the film for a second time, I was struck by something I had not yet considered: the screenplay is spectacular. Despite having won the Best Screenplay prize at last year’s Venice Film Festival, I never thought much of it during the first viewing. But after letting it settle in my mind a bit further, it becomes clear that there are exchanges in the film that mirror some of the best dialogue in recent American cinema. Life During Wartime is essentially about forgiveness, and throughout the film, characters either deliver dry humor or profound meditations on mercy. The plot is thin, but the conflicts and conversations make the film a keeper. For my money, the show-stopper moments are: Ciaran Hinds and Charlotte Rampling bitterly discussing monster families, and Dylan Riley Snyder’s balcony confrontation about forgiving and forgetting. Life During Wartime is the sixth feature film by Solondz, but I’d say it’s his best screenplay yet.
Aiding the script are excellent performances, anchored by Allison Janney’s turn as Trish, the oldest of three sisters searching for peace of mind. Janney earned high praise and awards for her regular role on NBC’s The West Wing, and she’s one of the best things in otherwise dubious films (Away We Go, Juno). Without putting too fine a point on it, Janney is amazing in Life During Wartime, and deserves some major kudos for her performance. She’s simultaneously the most absurd and most compassionate character, as a troubled single mother trying to rebuild her family, even though her ex-husband is a convicted child molester. It’s not the stuff of easy comedy, or tragedy, but Janney finds the balance in every one of her scenes. See the film (which opens July 23 in theaters and VOD), and see what I’m talking about. So, is there a chance for Janney and the screenplay of Life During Wartime to get recognition for these achievements? As speculative as this may be, I hope so.
[Full disclosure: a related company to ours, Cinetic Media, was the U.S. sales agent for the film.]