After his 1995 breakthrough, Welcome to the Dollhouse, director Todd Solondz was courted by a number of studios to make a big-budget film with top stars. Instead, he chose to make this aggressively dark comedy-drama of perversions and twisted lives. Andy Kornbluth (Jon Lovitz) explodes with anger after rejection in a restaurant from Joy Jordan (Jane Adams), one of a trio of middle-class New Jersey sisters. Joy's sister Trish (Cynthia Stevenson), a housewife with three kids, is married to psychiatrist Bill (Dylan Baker), who counsels the lonely, overweight Allen (Philip Seymour Hoffman). Allen is obsessed with Joy's other sister, the successful poet Helen (Lara Flynn Boyle), all the while ignoring the attentions of his seemingly sweet yet overweight neighbor Kristina (Camryn Manheim). Bill has fantasies of turning an assault rifle on families in a park, masturbates to teen magazine photos, and develops an unhealthy interest in a classmate of his 11-year-old son, Billy (Rufus Read). After a telephone sales job, Joy moves on to substitute teach at an adult education class, where she falls prey to the advances of an insensitive cabdriver, Vlad (Jared Harris). Allen's series of obscene phone calls to Helen come to an end when she challenges him to come next door and carry out his sexual threats. Meanwhile, the sisters' parents, Lenny and Mona Jordan (Ben Gazzara and Louise Lasser), find their marriage collapsing after 40 years. Lenny has sparked the interest of divorcée Diane Freed (Elizabeth Ashley), but he actually would prefer to be alone. The path to happiness, it seems, is littered with dreams, despair, and abnormalities. Winner of the International Critics' prize at the 1998 Cannes Film Festival, Happiness met with much controversy both in pre-production and upon its release, as chronicled in producer Christine Vachon's book Shooting to Kill.
by Bhob Stewart synopsis