Struggling in New NY, Still Mourning for the Old One in Happy Life


Keith (Tom McCaffrey), the subject of character study Happy Life, is the 35-year-old proprietor of the record store New York Tunez and a DJ specializing in “authentic New York trance” who no longer has a glow-stick-spinning public to serve. “Culture is like a pendulum,” he tries to persuade himself while trying to convince his landlord that he’ll eventually pay rent. “It’s gonna swing back in my direction.” Happy Life is an obviously on-the-cheap production, padded to achieve feature length and more articulate in expressing a nostalgic ideal than unveiling individual characters. There is, however, something piquantly sad in the character of a down-and-out raver: a survivor of a scene based on futurist optimism repeatedly reminded of his obsolescence; a believer in blissy hedonism learning that the road of excess only leads to the palace of premature old age (glimpsed via Gilles Decamps as an MDMA casualty celebrity DJ). The big name attached to Happy Life is “executive producer Abel Ferrara,” and like Ferrara’s recent work, the undercurrent of Michael Bilandic’s film is mourning for Old New York—a lost city of divergent, cross-pollinating subcultural tribes and boutique hangout shops. The most spot-on scenes show passive-aggressive hipster clerks snorting at Keith’s flyers for a comeback fundraiser rave and a city suffocating on its own cool.

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