The film follows the lives of three sisters trying to find Happiness in their lives: Older sister Trish Maplewood (Cynthia Stevenson), a Middle Class housewife whose married to psychiatrist Bill Maplewood (Dylan Baker) who is secretly a pedophile; Helen Jordan (Lara Flynn Boyle), the middle sister, a successful author who is loved and adored by everyone around her but is in constant despair over the fact she feels no one loves her for her, but finds a bit of excitement when her neighbor, Allen (Philip Seymour Hoffman), wants to violently have sex with her; and finally there's Joy (Jane Adams), the youngest sister who is overly sensitive and feels she lacks a purpose in life. She later decides to become a teacher for russian immigrants, where she starts a relationship with her student, Vlad (Jared Harris)
Due to its content, the film was threatened with an NC-17 and the films original distributor October Films, dropped the film. Both of these were resolved when the film was released unrated and the films production company, Good Machine, released the film by themselves. Despite all of that, the films script was nominated for a Golden Globe and the film won the FIPRESCI prize at that years Cannes Film Festival.
The film had a loose sequel, Life During Wartime released 11 years later. None of the cast from this film appeared in the sequel.
Not to be confused with Happiness, or the emotion.
This film provides examples of:
- Black Comedy: With moments like Bill talking about how he wouldn't fuck his son and that he would rather jerk off instead (with his son, Billy, taking offense to this), Joy's overly sensitive nature, and Allen using his cum as an adhesive for a postcard, you're bound to get at least a few chuckles.
- The Cameo: Jon Lovitz as Joy's date, Andy, in the opening 5 minutes, who gives a great "The Reason You Suck" Speech to her. Also Molly Shannon appears for a few moments.
- Downer Ending: No one finds happiness. Bill gets caught molesting Billy's friend, Johnny, the family has their reputation ruined. Andy kills himself; Allen finds someone who loves him, but she's a murderer who killed her door man after he raped her. Joy finds out that Vlad cheated on his wife and that she was being used, steals her guitar and stereo, and pays $500 to get those items back. The Jordan's parents end up in a loveless marriage despite being together for 40 years and everyone is miserable. The only one who has a Happy Ending is Billy, who finally is capable of ejaculating.
- Driven to Suicide: the fate of Andy, with a mixture of vodka, medication, and a bag over his head just in case.
- No Ending: The film ends the moment Billy finally admits to his family that he ejaculated to one of the neighbors sunbathing.
- Pac Man Fever: During the scene where Bill is offering Billy and his friend Johnny something to eat, Billy is shown with a PlayStation controller and Johnny with an SNES controller.
- "The Reason You Suck" Speech:Andy: You think I don't appreciate art? You think I don't understand fashion? You think I'm not hip? You think I'm pathetic? A nerd? A lard-ass fat-so? You think I'm shit? Well, you're wrong, 'cause I'm champagne, and you're shit. Until the day you die, you, not me, will always be shit!