Reviewed by Pete Hammond
May 04, 2010
Novice writer-director Adam Sherman has reportedly said, "I honestly
don't know why I write stories or make movies…." After seeing this
incoherently plotted mess, the audience will probably not know,
either. To be fair, Sherman wrote this dizzying account of the
drug-addled free-love life of a post-hippie commune based on his own
experiences. The film's opening graphic says indeed it is inspired by
a true story, which Sherman says is "part therapy and part cautionary
tale." If that's the case, we're happy you got out, Adam.
The late 1960s and early '70s were littered with movies like this,
including "The Magic Garden of Stanley Sweetheart" and "The Love
Ins." This one surmises what a hippie commune would be like years
after it was fashionable. These are the hard-core hangers-on to a
lifestyle that was based on drugs, sex, and rock 'n' roll. The film
is the coming-of-age story of Victor (Mark L. Young), who has grown
up in a commune funded by his empty shell of a mother (Andie
MacDowell). She, like others living there, is caught under the spell
of a Jim Joneslike phony prophet, the guru Insley (Rutger Hauer).
Unfortunately, because they are obsessed only with their own
pleasures, the mindless adults of the commune are oblivious that
their self-destructive kids have turned into a clan resembling the
group in "Lord of the Flies." As the kids indulge in the same
drugs-and-sex world of their parents, they also are uncommonly
violent not only to each other but in some cases themselves. Victor
also has problems dealing with the return of his first girlfriend,
Becky (Hanna Hall), who comes back to tend to her dying dad. Sadly,
she is the poster child for promiscuity and lures Victor into no
good. Victor's ultimate desire to escape his home makes up the crux
of the story and the "cautionary tale" part.
There's a lot to be said for filmmakers drawing on their own
experience for cinematic inspiration, but most of what Sherman puts
on the screen is repugnant rather than enlightening. Do we really
need to watch a kid pour gasoline on a cow and light it on fire? The
actors do what they can, but the drama is limp. MacDowell looks like
she is in a permanent drugged-out stupor for her few scenes. Hall, an
Amanda Seyfried look-alike, runs around topless a lot. She's not the
only one. Young spends most of the flick looking like he wants
outnot just of the commune but the movie too. Among the other kids,
Jesse Plemons ("Friday Night Lights") gathers decent intensity as
Chad, the resident loser-bully. Worst of the bunch is Hauer, who
plays the sex-crazed prophet with all the credibility of Mike Myers
in "The Love Guru."
Written and directed by: Adam Sherman.
Starring: Andie MacDowell, Mark L. Young, Hanna Hall, Jesse Plemons,
Down on the Commune, Where the Kids Run Wild
By STEPHEN HOLDEN
Published: May 7, 2010
The wretched children born and raised on a rural hippie commune who
flail through Adam Sherman's new film, "Happiness Runs," may not be
as depraved as the members of the Manson family. But these teenagers,
who were home-schooled in a climate drenched in sex and drugs, are a
creepy lot. While the 40- and 50-something parents are fornicating
and practicing new-age rituals, their aimless offspring spend their
days drinking, smoking and dealing pot, ingesting any pharmaceutical
they can get their hands on and having sex.
With nightmare sequences in which the most promiscuous teenager,
Becky (Hanna Hall), is shown with blood dripping down her arms, and
soft-core scenes that ogle her naked body in various states of
ecstasy (she belongs to everybody, she declares), "Happiness Runs"
has the look and tone of an erotic horror film. In its ugliest
moment, these stoned children of the damned, dressed for a costume
party, visit a nearby farm to play a game they call "cow tipping."
One overzealous member of their group gleefully douses a cow with
gasoline and sets it on fire; the camera doesn't show the blaze, but
we hear the agonized roars of the animal.
Because "Happiness Runs" is described in the production notes as a
semiautobiographical movie inspired by Mr. Sherman's experiences
growing up in a polygamous hippie cult in Vermont devoted to free
love and drug experimentation there is the unsettling implication
that the cow-burning incident actually happened. The notes go on to
say that the commune's founding guru practiced hypnosis and had
long-term sexual relationships with most of the women. In the movie
he is named Insley and is played by Rutger Hauer in a performance
that suggests a sinister hybrid of Jim Jones and Timothy Leary.
The filmmaker's presumed alter ego, Victor (Mark L. Young), is a meek
lost soul who longs to leave the commune but whose mother (a gaunt,
ashen Andie MacDowell) refuses to give him the money. His insane
father (Mark Boone Junior) addresses his son in poetic terms like
"Whither comest thee?" and leeringly boasts of sleeping with a
different woman every night.
This strident exposé may gladden the hearts of some anti-'60s
conservatives, but it is a shapeless mess steeped in prurience. Its
grain of truthfulness, however, is just enough to leave you unsettled
in the pit of your stomach.
Opens on Friday in Manhattan.
Written and directed by Adam Sherman; director of photography, Aaron
Platt; edited by Jonathan Alberts; music by Johnny Klimek and
Reinhold Heil; production designer, Michael Fitzgerald; costumes by
Emily Baston; produced by Stephen Israel; released by Strand
Releasing. At the Quad Cinema, 34 West 13th Street, Greenwich
Village. Running time: 1 hour 28 minutes. This film is not rated.
WITH: Mark L. Young (Victor), Hanna Hall (Becky), Jesse Plemons
(Chad), Laura Peters (Rachel), Shiloh Fernandez (Shiloh), Andie
MacDowell (Victor's mother), Mark Boone Junior (Victor's father) and
Rutger Hauer (Insley).