“I think of life as dust or wind,” says pretty young Muriel (Shalom Harlow) at the outset of “Happy Here and Now.” Hmm, I wonder…didn’t Kansas say that in song, so very tunefully, about 25 years ago? Such musings are about the only enjoyment to be gleaned from writer-director Michael Almereyda’s ponderous new experimental something or other. After a promising start with the vampire tale “Nadja” and his Gen-X update of “Hamlet,” Almereyda is tripped up by this grab at cosmic profundity, and lands in a sticky puddle of pretension.
Muriel’s smeary PixelVision image (the primitive Fisher-Price video camera remains a favorite of Almereyda’s) is seen next to that of Eddie Mars (Karl Geary), a New Orleans-based Internet philospher/seducer, as they converse via webcam. Muriel recently disappeared, it turns out, and her sister Amelia has come to New Orleans looking for her. Amelia is played by Liane Balaban, who looks like Natalie Portman’s big sister and acts with about the same level of enthusiasm Portman exhibits in her “Star Wars” movies. Hence, Amelia’s quest for answers doesn’t exactly rivet our attention – any less urgency and she’d be sleepwalking.
So we’re left to ponder why Eddie Mars also seems to be played by David Arquette (when he’s not busy making a DV movie-within-a-movie about Nikola Tesla and his clone – don’t ask)…or why Karl Geary, when he’s not portraying Mars, also plays a moody fireman named Tom…or how Ally Sheedy, GeekGirl Queen of the ‘80s, has suddenly ended up playing someone’s middle-aged aunt…or what Gloria Reuben of “E.R.” is doing in the movie at all. Everyone wanders around looking drugged, dazed and mostly confused. Does the swampy New Orleans humidity really do this to people’s heads? If so, I’ll stick with San Francisco any day – or even Austin.
Speaking of which: the rarely interesting, always confounding “Happy Here and Now” inexplicably won a Special Jury Award at this year’s South by Southwest film festival. So someone out there grooved to its wavelength. Power to ‘em. But for half-assed indie-style college philosophizing, I’d recommend seeking out Steven Soderbergh’s “Schizopolis” instead. At least that one is funny – and intentionally so.