Happiness Runs

Strand Releasing

Adam Sherman's semi-autobiographical coming-of-age tale centers on a young man named Victor (Mark L. Young) as he realizes the shortcomings of the utopian ideals of the hippie commune where he was raised. 
 
If the premise of the narrative sounds interesting, the execution is not. While Sherman should be commended for avoiding a stereotypical portrait of bohemian life, he could be faulted for making a mundane, rather shapeless feature whose lessons are all too familiar.
 
Inevitable comparisons will be made with Sidney Lumet's far superior 1988 melodrama, "Running on Empty," which also depicts an intergenerational strife between hippie, on the run radical parents (Christine Lahti and Judd Hirsch) and their children, especially young son (played by River Phoenix in one of his strongest turns) 
 
Victor and his friends run free through a life devoid of involvement and responsibility, as their parents, especially Victor’s mother (Andie MacDowell), have become victims under the seductive ideas of the guru Insley (Rutger Hauer). Preoccupied with Insley’s free love philosophy, the adults of the community overlook the painful reality that the self-destructive behavior of their children is a result of early, excessive exposure to sex and drugs.
 
Things change dramatically for Victor when Becky (Hanna Hall), his childhood love, returns to the commune due to her father's terminal illness.  The product of her environment, Becky is a whirlwind of promiscuity and drug use.  At first, the encounter confuses Victor and makes his already unstable world even more complicated. But ultimately, it is Becky’s state of mind and lifestyle that leads Victor to understand that there is no future for his generation at the commune.
 
Victor's quest for escape provides the motivational drive for the tale, which changes gears in the film's last reel. Desperate for any source of support in his desire to get away, Victor aims at a life of his own, freed from the oppressive “freedom” that defines the commune. 
 
Sherman's depiction of a world without limits or self-awareness is decent but lacks subtlety, and the film should have been stronger and sharper, particularly when placed against the lifestyle and ideology of future generations.  The acting of the adult figures also leaves much to be desired. As Victor's mother, an independently rich woman, who has no problem dispensing cash to her guru, Andie MacDowell is not entirely compelling, and as the commune leader, Rutger Hauer, may be too cynical and scary to convey a charismatic individual. It doesn't help that the script assigns to him some preposterous lines and that he relies on hypnosis (among other methods) to keep his fold in line.
 
In the end, despite good intentions, "Happiness Runs" is neither convincing as a social issue picture nor as a reveral tale of coming-of-age, in which it's the children who seek mainstream conformity and conventional life.