What’s So Bad About Feeling Good? (1968)


USA. 1968.


Director/Producer – George Seaton, Screenplay – George Seaton & Robert Pirosh, Suggested by the Novel I Am Thinking of My Darling by Vincent McHugh, Photography – Ernesto Caparros, Music – Frank De Vol, Songs – Dave Blume & Jerry Keller, Music Supervisor – Joseph Gershenson, Makeup – Bud Westmore, Art Direction – Henry Bumstead & Alexander Golitzen. Production Company – Universal


George Peppard (Pete Jackson), Mary Tyler Moore (Liz), Dom de Luise (J. Gardner Monroe), Charles Lane (Dr Shapiro), John McMartin (Mayor)


In New York City, the crew of a Greek freighter release a toucan, which is carrying an airborne virus that causes euphoria and happiness. It flies to the dump where Pete Jackson and his girlfriend Liz live among a group of beatnik artists dedicated to experiencing the true misery of life. Infected by the happiness virus, they get jobs and happily set about a normal middle-class lifestyle. However, when the spreading virus causes alcohol and cigarette sales and divorce rates to plummet, tough-headed Presidential adviser J. Gardner Monroe is brought in to find the toucan.

Most comedies acts as liberating anarchic fantasies, ones that poke fun at the people who take themselves too seriously or which allow the child within loose to indulge in socially unacceptable behaviour. What’s Bad About Feeling Good? however is one film that acts as completely the opposite. Where in just about any other film one would expect that the happiness-inducing bird act as a deux ex machina to allow people to indulge in wacky behaviour – vis a vis the chemicals in the water cooler in Monkey Business (1952) – the bird here instead operates as a machina of conservatism, causing people to adopt middle-class lifestyles. The film’s subtext is amazing – not to mention profoundly insulting – in its equation of a middle-class lifestyle with happiness and by corollary its cynical caricaturing of the bohemian lifestyle with unhappiness. Even worse, happiness is equated with people getting married and singing America the Beautiful and where the Russians suddenly stopping disagreeing in the UN. Also that when they suddenly become middle-class, unhappy people also develop a conscience and start telling the truth, as though bohemian people and unhappy people were naturally amoral and dishonest. It is a glib and smug film.

The action goes on in a series of shapeless slapstick sequences. George Peppard plays blandly, although his brief playing of a caricatured nihilist German philosopher does contain a remarkable chameleon shift that shows that he is capable of more. The film also features Mary Tyler Moore well before The Mary Tyler Moore Show (1970-7). She is bland – indeed, the only real distinction this film has at all is seeing her playing a hippy and failing badly.

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