Netflix Update No. 89: “The Happy Poet”
January 3, 2014
It’s all about Bill, an unpublished poet, whose dream is to sell vegetarian lunches in a park in Austin, Texas. He buys a hot dog cart — on monthly payments — and starts whipping up the hummus and babba gannounj. He calls his business Happy Poet, but whether he is happy or not is a matter of conjecture since the central joke of this deft little 2010 comedy is the poker face on Paul Gordon, who wrote and directed the film and plays the title role.
Bill has no business sense and his enterprise gets off to a slow start, but he gets help and moral support of sorts from two underemployed hangers-on and a young woman who not only likes the vegetarian fare but takes a shine to Bill himself.
The most helpful, seemingly, is Donny (played by Jonny Mars), a charismatic hustler who has a motorcycle and an idea: he will print and distribute flyers promoting the Happy Poet all over downtown Austin and then deliver lunch orders called in to Bill’s cell phone. This might be a workable if limited business model — if it weren’t for Donny’s sideline.
Curtis, played by Chris Doubek, shows up around four and helps Bill close up — even consuming some unsold victuals, giving what turns out to be a misleading impression of indolence. And Agnes, played by Liz Fisher, is a willing customer, because she eats healthy, who finds Bill more intriguing in a way that most people can’t perceive.
Bill’s foray into the culinary trade would have ended in failure but for an unexpected reversal of fortune. Sad to say, the resolution is giddily contrived and out of character in this film. It appears to be a clumsy attempt to create a contrasting background for Gordon’s poker face, which remains unmoved by events until everything goes black. But the movie was a game effort by Gordon, and it got some positive attention when it made the rounds of festivals. The casting and the performances and the effective use of the Austin locations add up to an engaging experience.