the-happy-poet-poster Movie: ‘The Happy Poet’
In Theaters: Check the Web site
Director: Paul Gordon
Runtime: 85 minutes
MPAA Rating: Not rated, but ok for kids 13+
Gecko Rating: 5 Geckos

The Happy Poet’ is one of those little gems that doesn’t seem like much on the surface, but I bet every creative person who sees this film will identify with it.

I saw it at the Traverse City Film Festival this summer, and from the first few minutes where the main character tries to get a bank loan to start an organic food stand business, I thought, “This film is about my life. That’s me.”

Because everyone has a dream, and we all feel like, man, if someone would just believe in me, I know I could make this thing work. All we need is a tiny bit of help, and they’ll see. They’ll be glad they invested in me.

Well, that’s not exactly what happens when Bill (director Paul Gordon) applies for a start-up loan. The bank gives him a measly $750 to kick things off. Not exactly enough to start an empire, but Bill’s got faith. So he takes the cash, buys a used hot dog stand, and begins the process of converting it to an organic health food stand known as The Happy Poet.

It’s not complicated. Basically, Bill gets up early every morning, makes sandwiches in his kitchen, and wheels the stand out to a park where he hopes to capture the attention of health food fanatics. Or converted hot dog fans. Really, any passer-by who’ll buy a sandwich made with whole grain bread, tofu, cucumbers, greens and other healthy fare.


Bill gets some help from an unemployed friend who volunteers to help with advertising and delivery. Soon, Bill has his first two customers: Curtis, a slacker-philosopher who falls in love with the sandwiches; and Agnes, a poetry-loving girl who might be more interested in Bill than the sandwiches – although he’s clueless when it comes to romance.

If you’ve ever opened a business, you know that two customers does not a business make. Debts pile up, Bill owes the guy who sold him the hot dog stand, and his partner is doing a little business of his own on the side.


Director/star Paul Gordon and producer David Hartstein (pictured above) did a Q&A session after the film at the Traverse City Film Festival, which was just as entertaining as the film itself. Based on the session, it appears that Paul Gordon was basically playing himself in the film. His deadpan humor on-film and off is effortless.

The guys also threw some free T-shirts into the audience, which made them a real crowd-pleaser. I wasn’t lucky enough to get one, so bought one in the lobby after the film.

Most creative types find themselves in a Happy Poet situation at least a few times in their life – competing with the mainstream hot dog vendors of the world — which is why this movie will surely strike a chord with viewers. If you have a chance to see it, I highly recommend it. The folks at both the Traverse City Film Festival and SXSW loved it, and you will, too.

And even if you don’t see it, be your own Happy Poet. Color outside the lines. Think big. Swim against the current. Go for your dream. As the film’s tagline says, make a stand.

Images: Jane Boursaw; The Happy Poet


  1. Thanks, guys. It really is a fun film.

    Sheryl – Right now it’s making the rounds on the film festival circuit. What usually happens is that if an indie film gets enough buzz, a distributor will pick it up for wide release in theaters. I’ll see if I can score an interview with Paul Gordon and find out the scoop.

    Ruth – I so need to watch Waiting for Guffman (it’s on my list), but The Happy Poet does have the same vibe as Napoleon Dynamite, where it’s a feature film, but plays almost like a documentary.

  2. Kris – I should note that there’s *some language issues – I believe the s-word is as bad as it gets. And a sub-plot involves pot and the selling thereof. So it’s not quite as family-oriented as Napoleon Dynamite. That said, I think it’s ok for kids aged 13 to 14 on up. If it gets picked up for theatrical release, I’m guessing it’ll have a PG-13 rating.

    I gave a shout-out to Paul Gordon for an interview, so if that happens, I’ll ask him what he thinks it should be rated.

    I’m not on NetFlix right now, but does it give an MPAA Rating for it?

  3. I enjoy the mocumentary style of Best of Show and others, this sounds like it’s in the same vein (alto not a fiction obviously). Sounds like a very cool film–so does he still have the food cart? Was it just an experiment for the film or is it something he really wants to do long-term?

  4. Squid – The Happy Poet is actually a fiction film, but even after watching it, you’re not really sure if it’s a true story or not. I mean, it’s got that documentary feeling, but it’s not a documentary.

    I think that’s why it feels like Napoleon Dynamite to me. That film seemed so darn real – the people were people who might live next door to you – and that’s the same with The Happy Poet. Hoping I get a chance to interview Paul Gordon so I can find out the inspiration for the film.

    I think an organic food cart is a great idea, and I know from reading Sarah Henry’s blog,, that they’re a happening thing.

  5. As fun and quirky as this movie is, the language issues go way beyond the “S” word. Later on, the “F” word comes up at first intermittently, and then towards the end, it’s repeated over and over in a barrage that would peel paint from the side of a tank. I was loving the movie until the language got so bad, and then I think it just ruined it for me. Also, there are quite a few scenes of drugs being sold, so I’m not sure this movie would get a PG-13 rating, but more like an R. I wouldn’t let my teens watch this.


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