1. The single most absurd element of The Happening, the
wellspring from which all other absurdities flow, is its conceit:
Across the Northeastern United States, people are succumbing to a toxic
airborne agent that makes them commit suicide, often gruesomely. At
first it hits major population centers, followed by smaller towns, and
on down to groups of even just a handful of people. Initially, it's
assumed to be some kind of terrorist attack. But as we learn pretty
early in the film, it's not. It's trees. Yes, the trees (and
perhaps some bushes and grass, too, the movie's never too clear on this
point) have tired of humankind's ecological despoilment and are emitting
a complicated aerial neurotoxin that makes us kill ourselves en masse. I
bet you wish you were the one who came up with this blockbuster idea.
2. A bad plot can be only so bad without a bad performance at
the center of it, and star Mark Wahlberg delivers. As science teacher
Elliot Moore, he is not merely unpersuasive, but dim, whiny, indecisive,
and self-pitying. Given the amorphous nature of the threat--the
villain, after all, is foliage--the movie needed its star to bring some energy, some empathy, some heroism, some something to the proceedings. Not happening. From the start, Wahlberg looks like he wants to tear off his sweater vest and launch into a Departed-style tirade of obscene invective that never comes.
3. John Leguizamo plays Julian, the Minority Best Friend, so
it's easy to guess what will become of him in a high-body-count movie.
Less easy to guess is that, in the midst of this deadly crisis, he will
dump his 8-year-old daughter Jess (Ashlyn Sanchez) on Elliot and his
wife, Alma (Zooey Deschanel, whose luminous blue orbs are the best thing
in the film), in order to drive to another state looking for his own
wife. This is especially odd given that Julian has made it clear that he
dislikes Alma and wants to keep Jess away from her, and everyone in the
film has made a point of very clearly enunciating that Elliot and Alma
have serious problems in their marriage.
4. The biggest problem, it is ultimately revealed, is that
Alma had a dessert date with a male colleague named "Joey," who has
since pestered her on her cell phone. At first it seems that "dessert"
may be a euphemism, or was perhaps a prelude to a greater indiscretion.
But no: This tiramisu was just tiramisu and, as such, a marital
misdemeanor by most reckonings. That does not spare us from the tearful,
guilt-ridden apology, however.
5. But enough about the boring interpersonal
melodrama: On to the boring arboreal genocide! Each time the airborne
toxin strikes, everyone ceases what they were doing and freezes in their
tracks for a moment. It took several such episodes before I stopped
anticipating that they'd commence tapping their feet in unison, as in
the beginning of a big musical ensemble number.