Early reviews are in for Todd Solondz’s new film Life During Wartime, a semi-sequel to 1998’s Happiness and, it appears, the director’s most explicitly Jewish work yet. The dysfunctional Jordan family is still grappling with incest, pedophilia, and suicide, and now a bar mitzvah, too. “There’s a strong Jewish subtext in the film, with the Jordan sisters’ Judaism, latent in Happiness, now exploited for both comic and dramatic effect—the latter most obviously by exploring rabbinical concepts of repentance and forgiveness as Trish’s youngest son approaches his Bar Mitzvah,” writes Screen Daily.
Variety, which claims Solondz “may have made his best film” yet, praises the bar mitzvah boy, Timmy (played by Dylan Riley Snyder), as “the most compelling character this time around”; like Dawn Weiner, the relentlessly bullied middle school heroine of Solondz’s Welcome to the Dollhouse, he’s tormented at school after discovering that his pedophile father, whom he’d thought dead, is alive and has been released from prison. Timmy’s mom Trish, meanwhile, has taken up with an older man “after discovering that he, too, loves Israel,” says the Hollywood Reporter, in a review that heralds Solondz as “the true heir to Woody Allen.” The film premiered yesterday at the Venice Film Festival, where Solondz apparently couldn’t resist making a public comment about the “wonderful fascist building” his press conference was held in.
Ari M. Brostoff is Culture Editor at Jewish Currents.