Review: The Happy Poet (2012)

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Review: The Happy Poet (2012) Mark Leeper 6/28/13 1:45 AM
                        THE HAPPY POET
               (a film review by Mark R. Leeper)

    CAPSULE: Billing itself as "an all organic, mostly
    vegetarian comedy," THE HAPPY POET tells a story that
    could use a little more meat.  Paul Gordon wrote the
    comedy, co-produced it, directed it, played the main
    character, and even edited the film.  Doing all those
    tasks he may not have had enough energy left to make
    the film engaging.  As much as one wants to feel for
    his character his deadpan performance gets in the way.  
    We know he is a poet, but he is inscrutably deadpan and
    inexpressive through almost the entire film.  And that,
    perhaps, is the point.  He is a man who remains a
    detached man in a world that expects passion.  Rating:
    low +1 (-4 to +4) or 5/10

Tabouli and hummus on pita is a good sandwich.  But it is an
acquired taste.  You cannot expect everybody to like it right away.  
It is not immediately appealing to the average Joe on the street.  
And it takes some patience.  Austin-based filmmaker Paul Gordon's
deadpan delivery and humor could make a good comedy.  But it is an
acquired taste.  Like tabouli and hummus you cannot expect
everybody to like it right away.  It is not immediately appealing
to the average Joe on the street.  And it takes some patience.  
Gordon plays in a constant deadpan and is sort of a talking version
of Buster Keaton.  He intentionally does not put any strength into
his character Bill.  He projects poet just fine, but the happy part
you have to take his word on.

Paul Gordon's Bill is starting a new business.  He is fresh out of
college with a Masters degree in Creative Writing: Poetry.  For
some reason Bill does not become an industrial poet for a large
corporation.  Instead what he wants to do now is to get a hot dog
cart and sell street food.  But he does not want to sell hot dogs.  
He is on a campaign against them.  They are, after all, poisonous
things full of nitrites and nitrates and ground pieces of things
that used to have a face.  He wants instead to sell healthy, green,
organic, natural foods.  It will be handmade sandwiches of things
like eggless egg salad.  (It's made with tofu.)  He goes through
all the financial arrangements and rents a cart from someone who
does not look like he will be understanding if the rent comes late.  
We follow Bill step by step as he builds his business.  We see his
mistakes well before he does, but the viewer comes to root for Bill
even as mistake after mistake puts his fledgling business into a
tailspin.

Now I have to admit the scenes of the organic food being prepared
do make the food look appealing.  I mean THE HAPPY POET still will
not sell itself like BABETTE'S FEAST did.  But if I were offered
one of Bill's sandwiches I would want to try it.  And Bill would
let me have it also.  Bill is trying to create a market and gives
away free samples on request.  That is one of his ill-considered
policies.  Giving free samples is running him out of business.  He
is meeting a lot of nice young people, but the food stand really is
not working for him.  And when he meets the young people, his
diffident manner is not helping him.  Going on a date he delivers
an opaque poem for a new friend.  When she does not laugh he says,
"I guess the humor didn't quite jump out at you."  And that is a
fine diagnosis of what is going wrong with the whole film.  The
dialog may be witty, but a deadpan dialog does not help it to work.  
Bill repetitively pauses in the middle of sentences unsure how to
put his thought into words.  At times he taxes the viewer's
patience.  His generosity starts to get spooky as if he is buying
friends.

Everything about this film seems minimalist.  It is scored with a
single piano and usually the music for a scene is a single piano
note.  Gordon tends to overestimate the boyish charm of his dry and
awkward speeches.

Like the food Bill serves the appeal of THE HAPPY POET is
selective.  The viewer needs to try to be on Gordon's wavelength.  
I rate this film a low +1 on the -4 to +4 scale or 5/10.

Film Credits: <http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1605765/combined>

What others are saying:
<http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/the_happy_poet/>


                                        Mark R. Leeper
                                        Copyright 2013 Mark R. Leeper