Day 6 of the Tokyo International Film Festival. The Happy Poet is by far my favorite film I have seen in the fest so far. I had an interview scheduled with the writer/actor/director Paul Gordon, but had to cancel it due to a schedule conflict. That is a shame, because I left the theater thinking that I would love to do something to promote this film.
The Happy Poet is the kind of little film that puts its big-budget counter parts to shame. It has a tiny budget but a big heart, with a great script and interesting ideas. Director Paul Gordon plays the title character, a holder of a creative writing MA who decides to start his own business. Taking a tiny loan from a bank, he buys a hot dog stand and transforms it to a health sandwich stand. The first day Bill has a nice round number of paying customers: zero. On his second day, when a woman walks by and expresses interest in one of his eggless egg salad sandwiches (tofu and vegan mayonnaise), he is so good-hearted he gives it to her for free. Eventually word gets around and his stand is a hit. Friend Donnie happens to have a scooter and starts doing deliveries. Bill is totally idealistic, and keeps his prices low even though he has to shell out big money for biodegradable utensils. Donnie on the other hand is much more practical, and secretly sells pots on his delivery rounds to supplement his income. Bill finally becomes disillusioned when his credit cards get maxed out and he is forced to consider selling more profitable hot dogs and he has a falling out with his only employee. He needs to decide rather to stand by his principles or go for the quick buck, and makes a life-changing decision.
The Happy Poet is great story telling cleverly executed with minimal sets (just a hot dog stand in a park, really) and good performances solicited from mixture of professional and amateur actors. The soundtrack, which the director has called an “anti-soundtrack” is one of my favorites of recent memories. Notes played on a somewhat out-of-tune piano set the mood at the beginning of each new scene. There is often no more than one note played in a five-minute time span, but the sparing use makes it all the more effective. As Bill’s business begins to take off and the momentum builds, the music becomes slightly more complex, but never more than two or three note trills repeated a few times. The whole thing was reportedly recorded on an unused piano that was in the garage of the girlfriend of one of the actors. The same resourcefulness that went into producing the soundtrack seems to have pervaded every aspect of the film.