Who: The man behind Welcome to the Dollhouse and Happiness, Solondz is the indie filmmaker responsible for moody flicks that focus on the grim underbelly of suburbia. His latest film is Life During Wartime.
Backstory: Solondz's upbringing in Livingston, New Jersey, was characterized by the same sort of dull suburban existence he's evoked so thoroughly in his movies over the years. Yet strangely—particularly for someone who would go on to make movies about rape and incest—Solondz says he wanted to be a rabbi as a kid. He turned to moviemaking instead and studied film at NYU's Tisch School. The reception to his first feature, 1989's Fear, Anxiety & Depression, was unenthusiastic, and in disgust he took a five-year break from filmmaking, teaching English to Russian immigrants after he was rejected from the Peace Corps. He eventually returned to film, breaking through in 1995 with Welcome to the Dollhouse. The quirky portrayal of awkward and misunderstood middle schooler Dawn Weiner struck a chord with audiences, became a sleeper indie hit at the box office, and earned Solondz the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance. In 1998 he followed Dollhouse with the darker Happiness, which won critical acclaim for its bleak portrayal of suburban pedophilia. He's since pushed the envelope with Storytelling (2001) and Palindromes (2004).
Of note: Solondz's vision of suburbia as a stew of repression, angst, and sexual deviance has won critical acclaim and made him popular with gutsy actors, but his edginess has generated plenty of headaches for studio execs. Happiness was dropped by October Films when its parent company Universal balked at the movie's focus on pedophilia. (The movie's producers, Ted Hope and James Schamus of Good Machine, ended up distributing Happiness on their own.) Storytelling ran into even more serious problems. Under pressure, Solondz ended up cutting a gay sex scene featuring Dawson's Creek star James Van Der Beek, but kept in an interracial sodomy scene between Robert Wisdom and Selma Blair that New Line had been desperate to eliminate to avoid an NC-17 rating. Solondz's solution: He covered the naughty bits with a none-too-subtle red box. The ensuing drama made it difficult for Solondz to find financing for his next film, Palindromes (he ended up paying for it out of his own pocket). But while he'll likely never be a household name in Arkansas, his status as an indie darling will remain intact for a long time to come, assuming, of course, he doesn't suddenly sell out and direct a cheeseball comedy with Jimmy Fallon or Ben Stiller.
Solondz's latest movie, Life During Wartime, is described as the sequel to Happiness, though the cast is entirely new. The film debuted at the Telluride Film Festival in September 2009 and was released in the U.S. in 2010.
On the side: Solondz teaches filmmaking at NYU's Tisch School of the Arts. He also occasionally acts. He was an extra in As Good As It Gets (as a "Man on A Bus") and Married To the Mob (as a "Zany Reporter").
Personal: The vegetarian Solondz lives in the East Village with his wife and their son, Elroy. You can spot him walking around the neighborhood in his trademark oversized eyeglasses.
Date of Birth: 10/15/1959
Place of Birth: Newark, NJ
Undergrad: Yale University
Residence(s): Manhattan (East Village)
Filed Under: Film
[Photo via Getty Images]