Strand Releasing // 2001 // 75 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Adam Arseneau (Retired) // June 25th, 2004
A prairie boy's libido triggers an apocalypse!
The easiest way to describe Hey, Happy!, in a single sentence, is to call it a gay Canadian version of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, but with lots of whips and chains and naked people. As a concept for a film, this is a mind-blowing pitch. In fact, so bizarre is this film that it barely works as a film; the subject matter is eerily similar to the stuff of fevered sex nightmares after eating bad enchiladas at 4 a.m.
Despite the inherent weirdness of this above paragraph, I assure you, it is a totally accurate description of the film. For better or worse, you would probably be spot-on in your mind's eye about Hey, Happy! when you try and picture it in your head. A dizzying blend of rave culture, experimental filmmaking, artistic flair, gay culture, and a flagrant amount of sex, the film is absolutely unclassifiable, completely independent and fiercely original.
Not necessarily a good film, mind you; but all of those things above certainly count for something.
Happy works at a pig-slaughtering factory, and routinely inhales industrial waste so that he can hear strange alien voices, warning him of the end of the world. This coincides nicely with current events, as it seems very likely that the world is coming to an end. The Red River has started to flood, and most of the town of Winnipeg has been evacuated, leaving only a gaggle of post-apocalyptic, bedraggled, and leather-whip brandishing fetishes behind.
He is the object of affection of two men -- one, Mr. Spanky, spreader of beauty culture, looks like Jack from Will & Grace, except with facial piercing like the singer from Prodigy. Also, he runs an evil beauty salon/wig shop with an army of fat Asian women henchmen (henchwomen?).
The second man, Sabu, a DJ, works at a traveling used pornography store run out of a paneled van. His personal mission in life, his calling, his quest from above, is to sleep with 2000 guys. Sabu's quest seems to parallel the fate of the city, for the more men he beds, the closer he gets to his goal, and the more the world seems to self-destruct. And as it turns out, Happy -- if he can get him -- will be the last man on his list...
If I was a studio executive, and somebody pitched me a script where the Red River would flood and destroy Winnipeg, the cause of which seems to be the raging libido of a gay DJ, I would break my back trying to make this film. This is such an outright insane idea for a film, stuffed to the brim with dildos, transvestites, leather whips and chains, naked bodies, copious drug and alcohol abuse, and techno music that it absolutely screams to be captured on film. Of course, it probably has already been captured on film. Many times. You will most likely find similar films located in the back section of your video store, behind the funny curtain.
So alas; the realization that Hey, Happy! is a much better idea than a film, is a sad and depressing one. In actuality, the film is such a convoluted mess of drugs, sex, sexual ambiguity, flashing lights, pounding music, leather and whips and assorted other chaotic elements that, as such, Hey, Happy! is almost entirely unwatchable. It pounds on your optic pathways with a pink sequined baseball bat and never lets up for a single second (the world is coming to an end, after all -- things don't exactly settle down in the film). This movie is an exploitation film of fetishes and perversion -- but not in the nasty, degrading sense of the word -- a joyous cataclysmic orgy of sexual energy, drugs and thumping bass lines, like a rave party that brought about the end of civilization, but keeps on partying into the empty void.
Sounds cool, doesn't it? Unfortunately, cool ideas do not always lead to good films. And how this translates into viewing enjoyment is...well...apocalyptic. How could it be any other way? Delving so deep into the chaotic experimentation of fetishes and orgiastic delights leaves little room for things like cohesive plot, character development, and other such tawdry side notes of filmmaking. The story suffers from some rough edges, some ambiguously vague character development and sketchy acting, and a fragmented narrative that ensures anyone watching the film has no idea what is going on, like a David Lynch dream sequence.
The film simply doesn't make a lick of sense. It doesn't even approximate sense. In relation to Hey, Happy!, sense is a distant cousin twice removed, who drinks a lot and goes in and out of jail, and so the family doesn't talk about him or invite him to bat mitzvahs. For example, in one scene, a character is cut open with a knife, his guts are torn out by another's teeth, a wedding ring is fixed to the entrails, and then the tormented individual is accosted with the business end of a...errr, plastic cucumber...of sorts. Yet, in the next scene, the characters are (more or less) no worse for the wear, e.g., very much still alive. Sequences like this just make you scratch your head in confusion as your few remaining brain cells rattle around inside the empty jar that is your head, all the other brain cells having escaped to saner climates out your ears. Hey, Happy! is an amazingly sexy, experimental, trippy, explosive, psychedelic ride, unique and hilariously bizarre -- but also, at times, kind of a weird and terrible movie.
Visually, the film is a mixed bag. Shot in 16mm Cinemascope, Hey, Happy! makes extensive use of color and light to create a candy-coated apocalyptic wasteland come to life, but the quality of the transfer to DVD is somewhat on the disappointing side, exhibiting a strange murkiness and graininess to the visuals, a barely perceptible jaggedness to the edges, and forcing a decisively non-anamorphic letterbox transfer onto the disc. Given the excellent direction and cinematography, this film deserved a better transfer. The cinematography is outright fantastic, and captures this dystopic landscape with amazing skill, considering the ultra-low-budget production. Endless prairie landscape, dirty gas stations, meat packing plants, and industrial warehouses give Hey, Happy! an almost Apocalypse Now visual feeling...if, say, instead of being shot in Vietnam, it was filmed on the banks of the Red River in Winnipeg. Some of the framing and scene compositions could outshine many of the mundane Hollywood films today. As far as sound goes, the Dolby Digital 2.0 mix dishes out the ambient techno soundtrack quite well, and dialogue is always moderately clean, understandable (though at times, mixed peculiarly) and balanced. It is not a spectacular audio track, but it passes all the main requirements and certainly does not disappoint.
Hey, Happy! features a top-notch commentary track by director Noam Gonick, for the director is remarkably personable, chatty, and happy to divulge all the small details about cast, crew, shooting locations and all the other tiny details that make up a good, candid director commentary track -- like the revelation that he is, in fact, color blind (which makes the stunning and hallucinogenic color use in this film either more brilliant, or just stupid, depending on your perspective). Other extras include the obligatory trailers and picture galleries, and a short film by the director called 1919, which is a bizarre Guy Madden-esque romp telling the story of the Winnipeg general strike as seen from the perspective of a male bathhouse and the denizens within. Set at a frantic pace in mock silent-film style, the eight-minute film is almost worth the price of admission alone. Also included is the Ballad of Garbage Hill featurette, a kinetic cross between a music video, a "making of" documentary, and a low-budget porno, chronicling the Garbage Hill rave sequence that ends the film. It also features a lot of the cast members in various stages of undress doing strange things to each other. You know, like most "making of" documentaries do.
You have to doff your hat to Hey, Happy! out of sheer respect, even as the film catches on fire and flies straight down the toilet. Outside of the six or seven people who frequent the art house cinemas, most people are not even aware that an independent gay Canadian cinema genre exists, let alone can mention any standout titles. Therefore, it is nice to see such obscure titles like Hey, Happy! even find a DVD distributor, to say nothing about receiving a review copy in my hands. The film, though at times a conceptual nightmare, is absolutely outrageous in a daring and progressive way that garnishes some respect points out of sheer principal. It makes me happy that films like this are being made.
And yes, of course, gay cinema is a vital and downright fascinating cinematic genre, and more attention needs to be taken by the mainstream media and public to examine this oft-neglected niche, etc. Unfortunately, Hey, Happy is not the film to win over the masses, but nevertheless, I do applaud the spirit in which this DVD was conceived and released. Whoever put up the financing for this film took a risk, and good for them! This is exactly the kind of movie that should be made, and people should see.
Well, maybe not this film, exactly. But you get my point.
Some will find the playful, experimental nature of Hey Happy a joy to behold, while others will identify with its sexual ambiguity and kinky sense of perversion. Others will want to push the eject button on their DVD player with a sledgehammer. Like many examples of gay cinema, Hey, Happy! represents a particularly specialized brand of exploitation cinema that offers very little to the mainstream public, but nevertheless, represents an important niche in the cinema world full of wonder and entertainment.
But even as far as gay cinema goes, Hey, Happy! is absolutely out to lunch in the weirdness department.
If the apocalypse were to go down, it only makes sense that it would be very gay, and take place in Winnipeg.
Therefore, for this reason alone, the verdict is not guilty.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Strand Releasing
* 2.35:1 Non-Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 75 Minutes
Release Year: 2001
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Audio Commentary Featuring Director Noam Gonick
* Featurette: Ballad of Garbage Hill
* Short Film by Noam Gonick: 1919
* Lost Scenes
* Official Site