Communes are an absolute blast. After all, you can run around without consequence, doing whatever your heart desires. Beautiful women run wild, willing to shed their clothes at the drop of a pin. It's perfectly acceptable, even expected, to sleep with a different woman each night. Drugs and alcohol are available at all times. So I just don't understand why Victor, the protagonist in the new Adam Sherman drama Happiness Runs, is so down about his life there. It seems to perfect... I really don't see a downside. He must just be young, a rebellious soul. Your dad tells you to have sex with a different woman every night? Disobey him! The girl you're in love with likes to sleep around? Let her - if she does it, so can you! Your mom is hording all your money and giving it away to the commune's hippie cult leader? There's no reason to complain. Teenagers these days.
Mark L. Young plays Victor, a young man who may not be especially smart or sophisticated, but does recognize a cult when he sees one. Unfortunately, the rest of his friends and his mother (Andie MacDowell) don't seem to see the problem with their sex-and-drug-fueled commie-hippie lifestyle, so he's left to his own devices to escape, or at least brood about his problems.
This is Sherman's first theatrical release, and while it's clear the writer-director has some talent, Happiness Runs never focuses enough for the audience to care about the characters. Young plays a strong protagonist, but he seems to talk a lot more than he does; after a while, you lose interest in his "struggle" to escape. What's keeping him? It's never quite clear, other than his attachment to Becky (played by Hanna Hall, best known as Young Jenny in Forrest Gump), but he seems more annoyed by her destructive ways than seriously threatened.
The picture itself meanders from one momentary issue to the next, none of which are particularly memorable save for one scene where Becky hurts her hip because a guy is humping her so hard. When the somewhat strange ending arrives - it consists of a surreal, dreamlike sequence - little of interest has happened.
Happiness Runs, though labeled a drama, is apparently a semiautobiographical tale from Sherman's youth: the filmmaker grew up in a polygamous hippie cult in Vermont. It's this seed of truth that saves it from being completely pointless, as suddenly many of the random scenes that occur, such as a middle-aged "psychic" convincing several younger women that they want to sleep with him or a horrifying cow-burning scene, don't come off as forced but disturbingly realistic.
Still, the movie has little going for it other than to act as a snapshot of something that may or may not have happened in real life. Happiness Runs is an interesting experiment that just doesn't pay off.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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