You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Happiness Runs

Trippy pic shows the consequences of free-love living on the next generation.

With: Mark L. Young, Hanna Hall, Shiloh Fernandez, Jesse Plemons, Steven Christopher Parker, Laura Peters, Tyler Steelman, Joseph Castanon, Ann Magnuson, Mark Boone Junior, Andie MacDowell, Rutger Hauer.

For helmer Adam Sherman, who grew up surrounded by sex and drugs in a polygamous hippie commune, the semiautobiographical feature debut “Happiness Runs” serves as an uneasy exercise in either therapy or revenge. Set two decades after the flower children had children, trippy pic shows the consequences of free-love living on the next generation, who seek the sense of social order their parents rejected. Sherman’s personal wounds feel fresh, which makes for a superficially beautiful but otherwise bitter story centered around one teen’s suicide — a downer Strand Releasing likely will have more luck pitching to prurient looky-loos than enlightened eyes.

Vintage homemovie footage sets the scene, depicting a bygone era of tantric yoga and bohemian living as a period of blissful naivete. But all that sex inevitably led to children, and an ominous “20 years later” label disrupts the idyllic tone as blonde Becky (Hanna Hall) passes judgment on the failed experiment. “They never planned for the future,” she says in voiceover, explaining how their parents thought they’d never grow old (Becky, a college student, has been drawn back to the commune to tend to her cancer-stricken father), while the kids were supposed to stay young forever (instead, they experiment freely with sex and drugs).

Popular on Variety

Becky’s return upsets what passes for normalcy in the commune, where cult leader Insley (Rutger Hauer) hypnotizes (or “runs”) the women, bedding a different one each night, while kids sit around untended, smoking joints in trees. With Becky around, jealousy flares among the teen boys. Sherman’s proxy here is Victor (Mark L. Young), a mopey young man who spends much of his time dreaming or doing dope with his hothead friend Chad (Jesse Plemons of “Friday Night Lights,” whose fate is the pic’s one surprise). Becky seeks validation through sex, while Victor has more traditional notions of coupling and doesn’t want to share his puppy-lust object with anybody.

The characters are composites of Sherman’s childhood acquaintances, though the reasons he cares about them appear too personal to communicate here. As is true of the casually hedonistic models in an Abercrombie & Fitch catalogue, the less we know about their insecurities, the more satisfying the fantasy. On closer inspection, they all want out, coping in their various unsettling ways: through promiscuity, drugs or self-inflicted wounds. Sherman blames the parents, presenting a “Lord of the Flies”-like world in which the kids make their own rules in the absence of adult oversight. But the general lack of discipline extends to the filmmaking itself, which feels scattered and unfocused.

Though wisps of plot surround them — Victor’s mother (Andie MacDowell, her brow permanently furrowed) financially supports the commune but refuses to give her son the money to leave, while the return of local drug dealer Shiloh (Shiloh Fernandez) introduces one more rival for Becky’s attention — Sherman makes little effort to organize these elements into a cohesive narrative. His strength lies in conjuring hallucinatory visuals (baby-faced teens brooding beside an idyllic lake or running through fire-charred desert wastelands), which puts an unfair burden on his inexperienced cast to make us care as they slog toward the far-from-happy finale foretold from the beginning.

Happiness Runs

Production: A Strand Releasing release. Produced by Stephen Israel. Executive producer, Tatiana Kelly. Directed, written by Adam Sherman.

Crew: Camera (Technicolor), Aaron Platt; editor, Jonathan Alberts; music, Johnny Klimek, Reinhold Heil; music supervisor, Natalie Boone Junior; production designer, Michael Fitzgerald; costume designer, Emily Batson; sound (Dolby), Rudy Zasloff; supervising sound editor, Joe Milner; sound designer, Christian Schaanning; assistant director, Paul Hart-Wilden; associate producers/casting, Linda Phillips Palo, Paul Palo. Reviewed at Wilshire screening room, Los Angeles, May 3, 2010. Running time: 90 MIN.

With: With: Mark L. Young, Hanna Hall, Shiloh Fernandez, Jesse Plemons, Steven Christopher Parker, Laura Peters, Tyler Steelman, Joseph Castanon, Ann Magnuson, Mark Boone Junior, Andie MacDowell, Rutger Hauer.

More Film

  • Leila Kilani's 'Joint Possession' Questions the

    Moroccan Director Leila Kilani on 'New Type of Hero' in 'Joint Possession'

    Moroccan director Leïla Kilani presented the rough cut of her second feature film, “Joint Possession,” in the post-production section of Marrakech Film Festival’s Atlas Workshops. She spoke to Variety about the film, which she describes as a “war film, inside a family.” Kilani’s debut feature “Sur la Planche” (“On the Edge”), about two women flirting [...]

  • Entering Singapore ComicCon

    Fans Flock to First Singapore ComicCon

    Wonder Women, Batmen, Baby Yodas and Ultramen were among the hundreds of cosplayers who showed up at the Singapore Comic Con taking place at the Marina Bay Sands on Saturday. Thousands more queued to get inside the massive event. A bewitching array of almost every well-known comic character on the planet, and events around them [...]

  • Singapore Comiccon

    Singapore ComicCon: Andy Kubert, Whilce Portacio on Barriers to Industry Entry

    Renowned graphic novel artists Andy Kubert (“Batman”) and Whilce Portacio,(“X-Men”) were on hand to share their vast experience at the Singapore ComicCon on Saturday. The event is a new addition to the annual Singapore Media Festival. Kubert and Portacio said that, despite the popularity of comic books, it is quite hard to break into the [...]

  • Poland’s Oscar Entry 'Corpus Christi' Scores

    Poland’s Oscar Entry 'Corpus Christi' Scores at Home and in International Markets

    Jan Komasa’s “Corpus Christi,” Poland’s official entry in the Best International Feature Film category of the Academy Awards, has become an arthouse hit at the local box office. The film has also become an international sales success with the number of territories sold rising to 45. The film, which world premiered as part of Venice [...]

  • ‘Gravedigger,’ ‘Zanka Contact,’ ‘Sweet Annoyance’ Win

    ‘The Gravedigger,’ ‘Zanka Contact’ and ‘Sweet Annoyance’ Win Top Prizes at 2nd Atlas Workshops

    Djibouti’s “The Gravedigger,” Morocco’s “Zanka Contact” and Ethiopia’s “Sweet Annoyance” were among the major winners in the post-production and development categories of the second edition of the Marrakech Film Festival’s Atlas Workshops. “The Gravedigger,” by Khadar Ahmed, and “Zanka Contact,” by Ismaël el Iraki, won the top awards – €20,000 ($22,000) and $11,000 respectively – [...]

  • Robert De Niro, Martin Scorsese and

    Film News Roundup: Leonardo DiCaprio Presenting Robert De Niro SAG Life Achievement Award

    In today’s film news roundup, Leonardo DiCaprio will present Robert De Niro with his SAG Life Achievement Award, the Oliver Sacks documentary finds a home and UCLA’s School of Theater, Film and Television gets a new dean. AWARD PRESENTATION Leonardo DiCaprio has been selected to present Robert De Niro the SAG Life Achievement Award  at [...]


    ‘Karnawal,’ ‘Restless,’ ‘Summer White,’ ‘Firsts’ Win Big at Ventana Sur

    BUENOS AIRES  — With Ventana Sur now firing on multiple cylinders, featuring pix-in post or project competitions for not only art films but also genre pics and animation – two sectors embraced by young creators in Latin America – “Karnawal,” “Restless,” “Summer White” and  “Firsts” proved big winners among Ventana Sur’s arthouse and animation competitions, [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content