Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Hippies Smell: Happiness Runs

The idea of Rutger Hauer running a drug-infested hippie cult should sound scary enough. Though not a horror movie per se, the parents’ free-loving commune does irreparable damage to their children in Adam Sherman’s Happiness Runs (trailer here), which opens this Friday in New York.

It seems like unorthodox parenting is simply always a self-serving practice on a fundamental level, leaving the resulting adult children in desperate need of analysis. Young Victor is a case in point. His wealthy mother has funded the commune because she is completely enthralled by the creepy guru Insley. Victor wants out, but selling drugs is the only method he can envision to raise traveling money. Evidently, getting a part-time retail job at the nearest town never occurred to him. Of course, he is a product of his environment.

Though perfectly willing to push grass on the brain dead commune kids, his plan is torpedoed by a price war launched by two rivals. He is also distracted by Becky, his childhood sweetheart recently returned from college to care for her terminally ill father. Regrettably, Becky’s self-destructive drug use and sexual promiscuity proves you can take the kid out of the commune, but you can’t take the commune out of the kid. By contrast, Victor never had the commune in him. Though a loner by temperament, he struggles to reconnect with Becky, while haunted by nightmares of her gruesome demise.

Happiness is the sort of film one might euphemistically call interesting when asked if it is good or bad. It is true to an extent. Based on his childhood experiences, Sherman never pulls his punches depicting the chaos and moral lassitude of the commune environment. Unfortunately, the recurring dream sequences are poorly realized and the protagonist is moody to the point of petulance. In addition, the very young looking cast’s frequent nudity and simulating sex is disturbing on a different level.

Hanna Hall is reasonably engaging as the troubled Becky. While Mark L. Young is certainly earnest as the disillusioned Victor, he lacks a naturally charismatic screen presence. However, the film’s “name” actors, Hauer as the smarmy Insley and Andie MacDowell as Victor’s manipulated mother, are large utilized as stock characters.

There is no denying the honesty of Happiness, but the execution is hit or miss. Though flawed, it is mostly an interesting muddle. At least there is enough here to suggest Sherman’s next film will be worth checking out. It opens Friday (5/7) in New York at the Quad.