"The Happy Poet," a no-budget comedy about one man's no-budget sandwich-cart venture, would have to dial up the energy several notches to qualify as deadpan. With a DIY ethos on both sides of the camera, the Austin, Texas-set feature is an ultra-low-key takeoff on the conventional find-your-bliss Hollywood arc. Funny and incisive in moments, it never fully takes off.
The title character, Bill, is a nonwriting poet who has left the workaday world to hawk organic fare in the park. He's played by Paul Gordon, the film's writer-director-editor, with a flat affect and a halting monotone that speaks volumes but doesn't grow less irritating.
The film opens with Bill's sustainable/biodegradable pitch in a bank. Like much of what follows, the scene breaks no satirical ground. But the loan officer's insistence that Bill has an "elitist attitude" adds a loopy touch, as does the simmering rage of the hard-core carnivore (Sam Wainwright Douglas) who sells Bill the hot-dog stand he repurposes for tofu and hummus.
With the help of two convincing performances, Gordon effectively captures a slice of contemporary slacker culture. Jonny Mars injects a note of goofy practicality as the scooter-riding marketing "muscle" and deliveryman for Bill's business. As Bill's first satisfied — and perennially nonpaying — customer, Chris Doubek delivers a spot-on portrayal of a middle-age pothead with no discernible means of support.
Amid the obvious dilemmas, Gordon offers a few sharp insights. The coda sends up rom-com ideals and capitalist American dreams, but like the movie as a whole, could have used more seasoning.
"The Happy Poet."
No MPAA rating.
Running time: 1 hour, 25 minutes.
At Laemmle's Monica 4-plex, Santa Monica.