I sat through this eighty-eight minute monstrosity two and half times. And the question that I’m still asking myself is, “What the fuck?”
Set sometimes during the eighties, Happiness Runs is the semi-autobiographical story of its tyro director. Happiness Runs centers on Victor (Mark L. Young), a teen who is desperate to escape from the hippie commune that he was born into. His terminally ill, inexplicably wealthy, and utterly disinterested mother (Andie MacDowell) has been brainwashed into single-handedly supporting the commune by Insley (Rutger Hauer), a creepy self-proclaimed “guru” who has impregnated most of the women on the compound. When Insley isn’t hypnotizing his narcissistic adherents into complete submission, he is training Becky (Hannah Hall) to serve as a sex slave. Due to Insley’s indoctrination, Becky has become a drug-addicted promiscuous mess, having sex with nearly all the boys in the group.
Victor, deeply in love with Becky, resents her naïve embrace of “free love” and repeatedly begs her to run away with him. To complicate matters, Victor’s mother absolutely refuses to give him any money. Because Victor doesn’t seem to understand that he can support himself by finding a job, he drifts from wild party to wild party with the other children in the cult, even half-heartedly drug-dealing, an enterprise which the adults hypocritically disapprove of. Due to their early exposure to drugs and sex, the children are all incredibly damaged, escaping the anger over parental neglect with varying forms of self-destructive behavior.
Just like a lot of movies with a “sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll” theme, the women of Happiness Runs are routinely objectified. There are several instances of full frontal female nudity—the exposed female bodies juxtaposed with male bodies that are always covered with at least boxer shorts, if they aren’t completely clothed. The men and boys routinely use the women sexually, an attitude that the women seem to encourage. Becky is referred to as “everybody’s girlfriend,” not seeming to understand that the males in the commune aren’t automatically entitled to access to her body. She even goes so far as to climb into Victor’s bed, saying, “You can do whatever you want to me.” The fact that Rachel (Laura Peters), the only girl in the bunch inclined to call the boys out on their disrespectful attitudes, is the “ugly” one that none of the boys seem to want is another slap at the women’s liberation movement.
And Happiness Runs marries sexuality and violence in an especially disturbing way, with no fewer than three shots of Becky’s nude body covered in blood. (Becky also gets her hip thrown out during a bout of passionate sex; an event that amuses the boys to no end.) It’s been a long time since a film managed to offend most of my feminist sensibilities. Then again, it’s been a long time since I saw a movie this bad.
I know I’ve spent entirely too much time critiquing the lifestyle choices of the characters. Unfortunately, this movie is so threadbare that I can’t adopt the Oscar Wilde standpoint of not concerning myself with the morality of the characters. The plot and character development are virtually non-existent. The pacing is slack with performances ranging from anemic to downright wooden; none of the actors are skilled or experienced enough to convincingly play world-weary addicts. The dialogue is so vapid and elliptical that it will put even the most committed viewer to sleep. And the cinematography is uninspired. And, like many movies centered on impressionable drug-addled subjects, Happiness Runs repeatedly sinks into surrealistic dream sequences, over-relying on the visions’ hallucinogenic quality to drive the story.
Please don’t waste your time with this one, kids. This movie sucked.