On paper, unsettling auteur Todd Solondz's latest flick, Life During Wartime, is a bizarre proposition. It's a sequel, of sorts, to his 1999 calling card, Happiness, with characters from his breakout film, Welcome to the Dollhouse, thrown in. Except every role is recast or, in some cases, re-imagined: Philip Seymour Hoffman's pale and schlubby character Allen from Happiness is reprised here by The Wire's decidedly less pale and schlubby Michael K. Williams. It's also Paul "Pee-Wee Herman" Reuben's first major film role since 2001's Blow.
On paper, though, it turned out to be the best film at last week's Venice International Film Festival, winning the award for best screenplay and coming out of the fest with more buzz than any other English-language film.
While most of Solondz's previous work is set in his native New Jersey, Wartime unfolds in Miami, specifically the Jewish community. But the film was shot entirely in San Juan, Puerto Rico.
"The fact that the production was largely filmed in Puerto Rico will likely amaze even native Floridians, so seamless is the match," notes the Hollywood Reporter.
"Miami kitsch is tastefully spoofed in Roshelle Berliner's pastel sets, an apt backdrop for Ed Lachman's balanced camerawork," says Variety.
But more important, the flick is supposed to be devastatingly funny -- like a dark Woody Allen, if he addressed topics such as pedophilia and Israel instead of setting some of his more memorable films around a Jewish guy chasing barely legal girls.