Rewind Review: Life During Wartime


As those who know me, and if such a person exists, cyberstalk me, know I created this blog after writing on another site, which shall remain nameless, for a while. The point is, I have material sitting around waiting to be re-used on occasion I will re-post them here. Some of those articles or reviews may have been extemporaneous at the time but are slightly random now, hence the new title and little intro, regardless enjoy!

Life During Wartime

Life During Wartime by noted and polemical independent writer/director Todd Solondz is an interesting piece indeed. Its synopsis describes it quite astutely as “Part Sequel/Part Variation” on Happiness, his 1998 film of quite some acclaim. The assessment is quite accurate as this film does manage to stand apart from the previous title as things eventually do all fit in this particular installment but the first act could be somewhat illuminated by having seen the prior, however, seeing Happiness is not necessary to enjoy this film.

This is all a credit to Solondz as basically he has created a work, in which despite the fact that these characters have prior celluloid history this tale manages to be self-contained and is not entirely dependent on the audience’s existing knowledge of the players in the drama.

What is also very interesting is that you have a cast put in a position where they must be very familiar with their previous moment, backstory or perhaps, in a few cases, react to a revelation not made on screen. There are quite a few examples, the first scene of the film between Joy (Shirley Henderson) and Allen (Michael K. Williams) is one that is in medias res in terms of the flow of the conversation. Immediately, we feel there is baggage there, they both come to tears in the discussion but we know not exactly what the baggage is right of the bat but it gets filled in later.
Similarly, Joy and her ex, Andy (Paul Reubens), have an odd late night encounter in a restaurant and nearly the whole scene plays out before our suspicions that Paul is no longer living are confirmed. All the scenes which Henderson and Reubens share are absolutely electric and the height of drama and if it was a two character film it would’ve worked just fine.


Not that moving out of this odd series of visions that Joy has harms the film necessarily. You also have in his own thread Bill (Ciarán Hinds), who in his own way is also a ghost, in as much as he has been considered dead by his ex-wife and she said as much to her children. It is a very Ibsenesque/Bergmanesque touch to have ghosts in this tale both literally and figuratively. What we don’t necessarily know up front, if we are only seeing this film, is what Bill’s crime is for which he is being released from jail and how he connects to the rest of the characters but sure enough the answers all fall into place, the haziness dissipates and things come into focus.

Then there is the family that Bill left behind lead by a matriarch Trish (Allison Janney) and this thread focuses mostly on how she is not only dealing with her impending marriage to Harvey (Michael Lerner) but also her struggles with her son Timmy (Dylan Riley Snyder) who is about to have his Bar Mitzvah. The path they both take is ultimately the central focus as it closes out the film. The truth is disseminated by Trish but sanitized to an extent and causes some confusion. It throws the ultimate monkeywrench into Timmy’s life as he was almost certain of what it takes to be and means to be a man. The nucleus also contains some of the most compelling performances of the film, Allison Janney is once again brilliant and newcomer Dylan Riley Snyder excels dealing with very difficult material and conveying, depending upon the situation, a different level of understanding of the given circumstances.

Much of the discussion with this film deals with the acting because it is a very character-driven piece, which also manages not to be dialogue-driven, again to its benefit. Ultimately, in nearly every scene we know the subtext or at least that there is a subtext being played. One particular example is Bill’s reunion with his older son, Billy, (Chris Marquette) who knew his father wasn’t dead and what he had done. There is palpable tension but there is also restraint and we can fill in the blanks of what they mean to be saying but are not. Even though Bill eventually reveals what he is trying to ascertain by his questions we know there is more to it.


The kudos for the cast could continue to include Helen (Ally Sheedy), the third sister in this tale, with whom Joy seeks a respite from her life. This is the kind of film that is most likely to grow upon second viewing as the first time around you are digging for answers if you don’t know them already but you are definitely focusing on what these characters are and are not saying to each other. It is a film with a social and political message to convey here and there but allows you to take it or leave it if you should so choose. It’s not an indoctrinating vehicle in the end but just a story about its people.

Todd Solondz’s latest is definitely a film worth seeing, if not once, then twice.


Once Upon a Time in the 80s: The Breakfast Club (Part 14 of 17)

Warning: This article features in depth plot analysis. If you have not seen this film you are urged not to read on. Spoiler alert administered.

John Hughes was a big name in the 1980s, but more so as a writer/producer than as a director. He started off as a writer with the National Lampoon’s crew. While it’s true he did work in a formulaic manner, and did practically invent the template for the teen film of the 80s; he did strike gold from time to time. The teen film of the 80s was so badly adapted to the 90s it spawned a spoof film called Not Another Teen Movie at the turn of the century. Hughes became a big player as a writer/producer but rarely directed his own scripts. He directed this film but his other films ran the gamut quality-wise from Weird Science, Ferris Beuller’s Day Off and Curly Sue to Vacation, The Great Outdoors and Home Alone. Hughes’ best directorial efforts were this film and Trains, Planes and Automobiles; regardless of all that this is his seminal work.

We start with a quote by David Bowie which is much better in the written word than it is in the song itself: “…And these children/ That you spit on/As they try to change their worlds/ Are immune to your consultations,/They are quite aware/ Of what they’re going through…” and the image shatters so we begin…

The Breakfast Club is in essence two things: it is first a character study and secondly, a timeless manifesto of teen angst. The setting is Saturday detention, our five protagonists are all here for reasons of their own but they are thrown together in the school library for eight hours and have to co-exist though they are very different. This is one of Hughes’ great situations and has been repeated on shows like Dawson’s Creek. Hughes is a master of creating a great situation for comedy. The premise of Sixteen Candles is that everyone has forgotten the main character’s birthday and it was a plot of one episode on practically every sitcom in the 1980s. This film is almost a play it is so dialogue-driven, however, if you turned it into a play I don’t think it’d work not that that’s going to stop anyone from trying [I’ve since learned at a screening with a Q & A hosted by Kevin Smith that this film was initially written as a stage play].

The Breakfast Club (1985, Universal)

“Anyone who moans that cinema in the 80s amounted to the death of dialogue and the triumph of action Jackson, should take a look at this movie. It’s all talk.”

The characters are immediately defined as we see them dropped off at school. Brian (Anthony Michael Hall) is told by his mother to use his time to study, he protests saying he isn’t supposed to study and she says he has to find a way; he’s the brain. Andrew (Emilio Estevez) is being reamed out by his father that he won’t get a scholarship if he gets caught again that and his letter jacket tell us; he’s the jock. Claire (Molly Ringwold) is being told that cutting school doesn’t make her a defective; she’s the popular girl or the princess. Allison (Ally Sheedy) is dropped off without a word when she goes to say goodbye the car speeds off and almost runs over Bender (Judd Nelson) so we have the last two, the basket case and the criminal. These labels are very important because that’s what we all perceive them as in the beginning and how they perceive each other and we learn about these characters and they bond with each other. While they’re in detention they’re each supposed to write a 1,000 word essay but they choose to do something else instead.

Why they ended up in detention ends up being like the “Rosebud” of this film. Except in this film it is but a gimmick. In their discussions, we find out more and more about these characters and what pushed them there. We find out about their home lives and for all of them there is something that makes it unbearable for them. In a very memorable scene Bender re-enacts a typical night in his house and depicts an argument between his parents. When Andrew doesn’t believe him he lifts his sleeve and says “See this? It’s about the size of a cigar. See this is what you get in my house when you spill paint in the garage.” Andrew relates how his father was always browbeating him to be number one and how he’s been made to hate weakness. Claire’s affections are a prize her parents keep fighting over since their divorce. Brian relates how he nearly killed himself, albeit with a flair gun, because he got a B in shop and his parents demand academic excellence from him “I can’t have it, and my parents can’t have it,” he says. At the end, we find out Allison’s problem is that her parents outright ignore her and that’s why she’s been contemplating running away. Their discussion concludes with the question “My God are we all going to turn into our parents” and Allison “It’s inevitable at a certain age your heart dies,” which leads us to the antagonist.

The Breakfast Club (1985, Universal)

The villain in this film is Principal Vernon (Paul Gleason). He is the establishment. And when he gets Bender alone he ranks him out like nobody’s business, and you just want to punch him right in the face, and he even gives Bender the chance to but Bender’s not used to this brutal honesty and is scared to death. I’d even say his tough guy image is an act even though he does have a hellish home life. Vernon also talks to the janitor and complains that “Every year these kids are getting more and more arrogant,” and then the Janitor speaks the truth saying “Come on, Vern, the kids haven’t changed you have. What do you think you’d think of yourself at their age?” and that ends the conversation. The principal is the embodiment of everything these kids hate and fear becoming. And he also gives a very good and funny performance. The teen angst of this film is apparent. When this film becomes a manifesto is when at the end they decide to ask Brian to write their essay for them and he agrees.

While there is a montage at the beginning of all that is high school. This is also a striking visual sequence. We see Vernon holding the paper, Claire and Bender being romantic, Andrew and Allison holding hands and Brian getting into his car. And we hear Brian doing a voice-over narration:

“Dear Mr. Vernon: We accept the fact that we had to sacrifice a whole Saturday in detention for whatever it is we did wrong, but we think you’re crazy for making us write an essay telling you who we think we are. You see us as you want to see us: in the simplest terms, in the most convenient definitions. But what we found out is that each one of us is a brain, and an athlete, and a basket case, a princess, and a criminal. Does that answer your question? Sincerely yours, The Breakfast Club.”

The Breakfast Club (1985, Universal)

And as the narration ends we see Bender walking across the football field and he pumps his fist in the air as “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” by Simple Minds plays the frame freezes. It’s the best, and one of the few acceptable, freeze frame endings I’ve ever seen; it’s perfect.

Some of the vernacular in this film is very 80s for example I don’t think I’ll ever know what “Neo-maxi-zoom-dweebie” is but the themes and storyline that run through this film are timeless such that I only came to see this film about three years ago (as of this writing). It’s a great piece of adolescent rebellion and a great comedy undoubtedly Hughes’ best work.

Works Cited: p. 33 Brat Pack: Confidential Andrew Pulver and Steven Paul Davies. BT Batsford: London, 2000.
The Breakfast Club. Dir. John Hughes. 1985. featuring Emilio Estevez, Judd Nelson, Molly Ringwold, Ally Sheedy, Anthony Michael Hall, Paul Gleason. Universal Pictures.