Writer-director Adam Sherman’s haunting early years growing up on a hippie commune inspired his semi-autobiographical “Happiness Runs,” an astoundingly bad memory piece that blows its potential dramatic heft at every turn. Certainly, how the peace-and-love generation’s experiment with group living may have turned rancid is a topic ripe for narrative dissection, but Sherman never finds a safe enough distance from his traumatic past to tell an effective story.
The filmmaker’s proxy here is teenage Victor (Mark L. Young), a lost boy whose communal existence among adult burnouts and promiscuous, drug-addled kids has reached its bitter end, forcing him to commit to an exit strategy from this former Utopia. His departure is framed by the reappearance of childhood love Becky (Hanna Hall), a sexually aggressive, enormously messed-up chick who comes back to see her dying father, setting off a series of other fatalities — both physically and spiritually — in the process.
Sherman saddles his grim tale with such creepy, one-dimensional characters, thoroughly unpleasant episodes and risible dialogue that there’s simply no way in for an audience. The film is further hampered by spotty acting, including embarrassing supporting turns by Rutger Hauer as the commune’s manipulative leader as well as Mark Boone Junior and, quite sadly, Andie MacDowell as Victor’s cuckoo parents.
— Gary Goldstein
“Happiness Runs.” MPAA rating: Unrated. Running time: 1 hour, 28 minutes. At Laemmle’s Sunset 5, West Hollywood; Regal’s University Town Center 6, Irvine.