Among several thousand other great things in Terry Zwigoff's Ghost World, I'm most often reminded of the black-and-white short film shown in Enid's art class. It's a perfect summary of everything stupid, pretentious and meaningless about filmmaking, but in case you need a longer, more elaborate example, try Adam Sherman's Happiness Runs, a hypnotically slow, DeviantArt-ready "true story" about a bunch of lost and lonely kids stranded on a weird, mostly unexplained hippie commune.
Mark L. Young plays Victor, a relatively normal but extremely angry kid who hates his mother (Andie MacDowell) for being consistently suckered in by the town leaders (Mark Boone Junior, and, intermittently, Rutger Hauer). He's got a plan to leave, but he can't quite bring himself to set the ball rolling without his dream girl Becky (Hanna Hall) agreeing to come with him. While he waits for his eternally mercurial would-be girlfriend, he wanders around, hanging out with local drug-dealer and wanna-be gangster Chad (Jesse Plemons), and another girl named Jenny (Kirsten Berman), who is, um, around? Sherman's grasp on storytelling is loose, to say the least, meaning the relationship of many of these kids to Victor is both unclear and unimportant.
Instead, Sherman devotes plenty of time to hallucinatory dream sequences, which are clearly important because they're shot on grainy film stock, contain extreme color timing to highlight fountains of blood, and feature any number of camera tricks, including undercranking and reverse motion. Yawn. I'm sure the symbolism of these scenes is of the utmost significance to Sherman, who reportedly based the film on his own experiences as a teen growing up in a similar situation, but the sight of Hall with thick makeup and an angelic white dress standing in the middle of a cloudy field while plasma rains down on her from a hole in her head doesn't engage me, it just telegraphs exactly what's going to happen later.
My recollection of sticking Happiness Runs on my DVDTalk wish list is that the description provided mentioned MacDowell, Hauer and Stranger Than Paradise's Richard Edson as cast members, but the combined total screen time of these three veterans is probably around eight minutes, and the young cast doesn't fill the void. It's not that any of them are particularly bad -- they could all probably do better with different material -- but they're all so flat, given more symbolic and thematic cud to chew than anything dramatic (not to mention in any given ensemble scene, most of them just sit around staring). A special note should be offered to Hall as well: while I appreciate her desire to be nude for 75% of the movie, it doesn't make the role brave or risky.
By the time a third act Halloween party showed up as an excuse for Sherman to put everyone in elaborate costumes and makeup (oh look, there's that angelic dress again), and Young was making snow angels in the dirt during his dream sequences, I had basically tuned out. I logged onto IMDb to make sure I had character and cast names right, and of course, the first review on IMDb is a positive one from someone absorbed in the poetry of it all. Where's the arc? Who changes? Does anyone learn anything? At least it's honest: not every movie that tries to sucker impressionable viewers with vague psychoanalysis and overly arty dream sequences would have a major subplot about a sham hypnotist in it. Too bad I doubt Sherman did that on purpose.
The DVD, Video, Audio, and Extras
Strand Releasing sent over a screener disc, so the final A/V specs, packaging, and extras can't be covered in this review. However, if this is close to final copy, I'd be very alarmed, because the disc I have includes a terribly mushy, harshly-mastered non-anamorphic 1.85:1 letterbox transfer, no subtitles or captions of any kind to accompany a wildly unbalanced 2.0 audio track, and no extras aside from the movie's original theatrical trailer (as well as trailers for other Strand titles).
Skip it. Even emo teenagers would be better off continuing to misinterpret the surface aspects of Donnie Darko than watch this mess.
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