Originally posted May 6, 2010.
Becky (Hanna Hall) and Victor (Mark L. Young), the children of aging hippies, take drugs and have sex in a dystopian commune where everything is permissible.
Written and directed by Adam Sherman
Starring Mark L. Young, Hanna Hall, Jessie Plemons, Rutger Hauer, Andie MacDowell, Laura Peters, and Shiloh Fernandez
I normally don’t write about movies I can’t stand, but I’m making an exception for the relentlessly downbeat Happiness Runs because it’s almost Reefer Madness–like in its depiction of hippies, communes, sex, drugs, and the impact that the ’60s had on the world we live in today. In a sense, Happiness Runs might be even worse than Reefer Madness. While the latter film was intended as nothing more than propaganda, and now seems absurd, writer-director Adam Sherman, who says he based Happiness Runs on his experiences growing up on a Vermont commune, intended his film as art, and he did succeed in making me care about his doomed characters. Which is why I warn you: If you have any good memories of the ’60s, this film, which seems overly long at 88 minutes, is a total bummer.
The movie, set in a rural commune that could be anywhere, appears to take place around 1987. But some of the characters are deep into snorting Oxycontin, and that didn’t come into vogue until 1997.
Though time and place are vague indeed, the filmmaker’s take on the aging hippies who founded this commune is crystal clear: They are insane, immoral, emotionally crippled, manipulative, and easily manipulated sex fiends who don’t give a shit what their children do. And their children, who begin smoking weed and drinking hard liquor daily around age 10, develop into super-promiscuous, self-mutilating, drug-dealing drug addicts and alcoholics who set cows on fire for entertainment and aspire to rip off drug stores for their Oxycontin supply.
In the climactic scene (and you can shoot me if you consider this a SPOILER), Becky, convincingly played by the gorgeous Hanna Hall, eats a bag of magic mushrooms and washes it down with a bottle of Jack Daniel’s after her father, who was suffering from terminal cancer, commits suicide. Wearing only a pair of panties, she climbs to the top of an abandoned Ferris wheel and jumps. The camera then lingers on her beautiful naked corpse—making me wonder if beautiful naked corpses have become a fashionable ploy in troubled independent films (see After.Life).
Writer-director Adam Sherman has said that making this movie was “like therapy,” and I’m sure it was. But because there was nothing therapeutic about watching it, I will ask one small favor of Mr. Sherman: In the future, man, don’t lay your bad trip on me.