hey, happy! written and directed by Noam Gonick, produced by Gonick and Laura Michalchyshyn, with Jeremie Yuen, Craig Aftanis and Clayton Godson. A Big Daddy Beer Guts production. A Mongrel Media release. 75 minutes. Opens Friday (June 1). For venues and times, see First-Run Movies, page 153. Rating: NN
noam gonick's been called the
gay Guy Maddin, a label he sheds with his first feature film, Hey, Happy!
Gonick rose out of Winnipeg's fertile film scene with his two short films, 1919, a jittery black-and-white silent film focusing on gay bathhouse culture at the time of the Winnipeg General Strike, and Guy Maddin: Waiting For Twilight, a candid documentary about his mentor and friend.
When I heard that Gonick was making a feature, I expected Maddinesque stylings: visual anachronisms, perhaps some homages to German Expressionism or film noir. But I was wrong. With Hey, Happy!, Gonick comes off more like Bruce La Bruce than F.W. Murnau, and it doesn't work.
The movie follows Sabu (Jeremie Yuen), a DJ and romantic slut who wants the 2,000th man he sleeps with to be Happy (Craig Aftanis), a geekish guy who listens for UFO signals while waiting for the Red River to overflow and wash the city away. To celebrate Winnipeg's end, Sabu plans a final rave on the outskirts of town, where he's stalked by the insane Spanky (Clayton Godson), whose taste for kinky S/M runs deep.
This is an original, daring work, and it wowed this year's Sundance festival, poking a hole in the idea that Canadians only make staid arthouse pics.
It also shared the prize for best Canadian film at last week's Inside Out Festival. The problem is that it's sloppy.
The plot seems to have been thrown together to accommodate the offbeat visuals, and Gonick is more concerned with stringing together shots of wild-looking characters set against Manitoba's sparse landscape than with telling a compelling story.
The result is an outlandish movie, not an avant-garde one. I love the sexually in-your-face gay content -- S/M, watersports and porn abound -- but I wish this film were pieced together with the same kind of rigour Gonick employed in his earlier works.