An all organic, mostly vegetarian comedy.
Bill (Paul Gordon, Pictures of Superheroes) is opening an all-organic, mostly vegetarian food stand. That’s the premise of The Happy Poet, and it fills its short runtime well. Bill is single-minded in his goal, and he comes across as sort of a slightly livelier Steven Wright, with a completely poker-face demeanor which charms me.
While it’s easy to mistake Gordon’s quiet, measured performance for an apathetic character, the truth is much more interesting. Bill is quietly determined. His progression through the film is not the hills and valleys of the typical hero, but rather he is The Little Engine That Could. Bill is consistent, plugging away at achieving an idea he truly believes in. In a world of fast and easy everything, Bill dares to ask if what’s easy is what’s right. His quiet, deadpan delivery grounds the understated nature of The Happy Poet. Whereas so many films rely on sweeping arcs, immense hurdles, and a dynamic character path, this film moves at the pace of life as it is, not as we imagine it should be.
The difficulties Bill struggles with revolve around his friends. Donny (Jonny Mars, Good Night) is his promoter and food delivery person. Curtis (Chris Doubek, White Reindeer) is a new friend who hangs out at the park where Bill has his cart. Both Curtis and Donny end up blindsiding Bill in realistic ways which lead him to a crisis of faith. The Happy Poet never oversteps its reach, and I enjoy how its even pacing allows me to appreciate the journey. It’s a simple story, but it’s well-told and engaging — and I recommend it.
Even the music backs up the simple elegance of The Happy Poet. The decision to utilize an unassuming piano score highlights the one direction the movie moves in. The Dolby Digital 5.1 hosts more space than the film needs but more is always better as the score mixes well with the ambient sound and dialogue tracks. Much of the film takes place outdoors, but I am happy with the level mixing as the expected wind and echoing are non-existent. The 1.78:1 transfer is typical of an independent film, with some haloing and artefacting popping up occasionally on the tracking shots. Otherwise it looks like mini-DV or another budget film stock, yet I don’t find it distracting at all.
There are a few special features. First is a blooper reel then an extended scene, followed by a short featurette about scoring the film. Next are some webisodes with Bill making deliveries and a commentary track featuring Paul Gordon, Liz Fisher, and Chris Doubek. Unfortunately, it’s a little soft, making it difficult to understand at times.
The Happy Poet is a quick, simple, and unassuming film. I was won over by its deadpan delivery and the quiet dignity of our hero. His journey is a believable series of events firmly grounded in the relevance of today’s green landscape. It’s streaming on Netflix but it has enough charm to warrant multiple views.