Lower East Side
350 Grand Street, New York, NY 10002
F, J, M, Z to Delancey Street-Essex Street; B, D, Q to Grand Street
|8:30||Live music by Lesser Gonzalez Alvarez|
|11:30||After-party: Open Bar at Fontana's (105 Eldridge St.) Courtesy of Radeberger Pilsner|
The Happy Poet (Paul Gordon | Austin, TX | 85 min.)
With a deadpan comedic style in the vein of Jim Jarmusch and zany characters reminiscent of Napoleon Dynamite, Paul Gordon's offbeat story of shy slacker Bill (Gordon, who also wrote the screenplay) vainly attempting to turn his vegetarian food shack into a success generates a combination of strange humor and bittersweet vibes into an unexpectedly effective formula. Cobbling together a meager bank loan, Bill hesitantly launches his snack cart in a quiet park with little fanfare. His droll mannerisms and lack of people skills don't help his cause. Hope is on the horizon, however, as Bill, his hapless deliveryman (Jonny Mars), and a bumbling hippy (Chris Doubek, the star of the 2010 Rooftop Films premiere Lovers of Hate) help boost his appeal.
As he works to obtain his goal, Bill figures out that most of his potential customers think he's running a hot dog cart. This recurring mistake establishes his greatest foe: the carnivorous population that wants nothing to do with his product. A one-man Whole Foods, Bill unwittingly enters into a more daunting challenge than he anticipated, with no apparent exit strategy. In due time, however, things start looking up. The business is on a roll, and Bill almost seems confident.
But popularity has its downside, a reality that Bill encounters when he attempts to take his culinary aspirations to the next level. How long can he maintain his appeal without succumbing to the needs of his meat-hungry customers? Despite this conundrum, Bill's constant perseverance turns him into a figure of pride. In one memorable scene, our hero embraces his Happy Poet status with a one-line putdown for the ages. Gordon, whose directorial debut Motorcycle screened at Rooftop Films in 2006, portrays Bill as a hilariously monotonous creation, but also a sincere one. His unique delivery approaches perfection when the character attempts to woo a romantic prospect with his godawful poetry, imbuing the title with an irony of epically amusing proportions.
Shot on location in the Austin area and taking advantage of its local filmmaking scene, The Happy Poet premiered to a wildly positive reception at the South by Southwest Film Festival.
- Eric Kohn