(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.

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					Mark R. Leeper
					Copyright 2013 Mark R. Leeper