As I watched Happiness Runs I was reminded of two films that strike similar chords in their own right. The first is Ang Lee’s Taking Woodstock, a similarly designed story about a youth whose life is controlled by the mistakes of his parents who ultimately rebels and decides that the only way to be happy would be to leave his parents to their own devices. The second is the award winning but critically panned and box office success story Kids from director Larry Clark. What reminded me of Kids in this film was the complete lack of parental guidance, the depiction of children so young yet so consumed by the vices of much older humans, and the notion that you know no good will come of this.
Happiness Runs is ultimately about Victor, a teenage boy (Mark L. Young of Big Love) who lives with his hippy parents played by Andie McDowell (At Risk) and Mark Boone Junior (Batman Begins) on a commune and his perception of the world he has known all his life. He see’s the complete apathy of the adults in the commune and the utter chaos in the lives of the communes children. To get by the kids smoke pot, down prescription medication, drink, sleep with one another, and worse. Nothing seems to matter more to Victor then getting out of the commune and finding a place of his own in the world, the real world, that is until Becky (Hanna Hall who played the young Jenny in Forrest Gump) returns. Becky is sought after by several characters in the film including Victor but like all of the kids on the commune Becky has problems of her own stemming from the egregious lifestyle of the adults on the commune. Victor wants nothing more then to leave and take Becky with him but the allure of the commune life and its complete lack of rules does not make it easy for either of them.
Will it be hard for Happiness Runs to find its audience? Without a doubt. The film is more of an intellectual ride then it is entertainment. It challenges you to think about what you know about this lifestyle that was so predominantly accepted in the 60’s with how we’ve come to live and think today. The atrocities of crimes against children, the failure of the free love concept, and the slow inevitable corruption of idea’s not just in this setting but as an idea itself. You’ll get about as much as you take from the film if you go in with an open mind but like Kids and Taking Woodstock it’s a trip you’ll more then likely only wish to take once. Not exactly tame the film does stray from the darker more sinister scenarios that one could conjure up but its still a ruthless reality that is capable of striking up conversations worth having. Always final judgment its yours. Enjoy.