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).

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

  • Editorial use only. No book cover

    Russ Tamblyn's Career Had Legs After Childhood

    With an acting career that spans work for Cecil B. DeMille and Joseph Losey to Quentin Tarantino and David Lynch, Russ Tamblyn’s creativity and longevity is proof that there’s life after child stardom. In Tamblyn’s case, there’s also been a bounty of juicy film and TV roles long after his legendary legs no longer kicked [...]

  • Olivia Wilde Booksmart Director

    Film News Roundup: Olivia Wilde to Direct Holiday Comedy for Universal

    In today’s film news roundup, Olivia Wilde has landed another directing gig following “Booksmart” and revenge thriller “Seaside” and “Woodstock: The Directors Cut” get August release dates. PROJECT LAUNCH Olivia Wilde will direct and produce an untitled holiday comedy project for Universal Pictures with her “Booksmart” partner Katie Silberman. Universal outbid five other studios for [...]

  • Choas Charles Mansion and the CIA

    Amazon Studios Takes Film Rights to Manson-Centered Drama 'Chaos' (EXCLUSIVE)

    Just in time for the 50th anniversary of the grisly murders executed by the followers of Charles Manson, Amazon Studios has optioned film rights to a nonfiction title about a journalist who spent decades obsessively following the case. The studio will adapt “Chaos: Charles Manson, the CIA, and the Secret History of the Sixties,” from [...]

  • Sword of Trust

    Marc Maron on 'Sword of Trust,' Lynn Shelton and Conspiracy Theories

    Marc Maron has interviewed everyone from Bruce Springsteen to President Obama, so he’s probably learned a few things about being a good interview. Of course, as he points out, he generally has over an hour to talk leisurely speak with his guests in his home and draw out stories beyond the public narrative; it’s a [...]

  • Andrew Lincoln as Rick Grimes - The

    Andrew Lincoln's ‘Walking Dead’ Movies to Be Released Only in Theaters

    The first planned movie centered on “The Walking Dead” character Rick Grimes will now run in theaters rather than on AMC. The announcement was made with a brief teaser video played at San Diego Comic-Con on Friday, with the video ending with the words “Only in Theaters.” The film will be distributed by Universal Pictures. [...]

  • Jennifer Beals The Last Tycoon

    Jennifer Beals Seeking SAG-AFTRA Board Seat as Matthew Modine Ally (EXCLUSIVE)

    Jennifer Beals is running for a SAG-AFTRA national board seat as a member of presidential candidate Matthew Modine’s progressive Membership First slate. Beals is best known for starring as Bette Porter on the Showtime series “The L Word” and for her lead role as Alex Owens in the 1983 hit “Flashdance.” She’s starred in the [...]

  • Alamo Drafthouse Opens New Downtown Los

    Alamo Drafthouse Storms into L.A. with New Location

    “Cinema is alive and well tonight!” Alamo Drafthouse founder Tim League declared at the theatrical venue’s ribbon-cutting ceremony on Thursday night, where a gathering of 160 employees cheered and sliced into a strip of 35mm film in keeping with the company’s tradition. Despite dire predictions heralding the end of the theater-going experience, League was upbeat [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content