Matt Morris’s gleefully cheerful short documentary, Mr. Happy Man serves as joyous testimony to the day-to-day life of one Johnny Barnes, a legend in his hometown of Hamilton, Bermuda, whose claim to fame is extolling the virtues of a loving outlook and an enjoyment of the simple things in life. The optimistic tone of Mr. Happy Man is established early on, with Barnes outstretching his hands, grinning, and standing by the roadside wishing stressed (though ultimately receptive) commuters a very good day, as well as assuring them that he loves them, and encouraging them to find happiness in the minutiae of their daily lives.
Appearing in the early hours of the morning, every morning, and remaining until the end of the morning rush, Barnes’ behaviour is the same come rain or shine, and a selection of regular passers-by admit to having been surprised to discover, upon their first encounter with him, that he wanted nothing in return; not money or praise, just a listening ear and an open heart. Barnes’ day begins at 2am with breakfast, and by 4am he is at his post. He states the roots of his current endeavours originated during his youth spent working for the railway; he would spend his lunch hours sat on a nearby wall, greeting people as they went by. Consistent happiness should not be a revolutionary concept, and yet somehow it is, as so many of us forget that life is meant to be not only purposeful but enjoyable, and filled with people and things we love. Barnes describes his mission as a somewhat religiously charged one, but even those who lack such a definite faith can certainly appreciate the concept of a spiritual calling.
The film is suitably minimalist, focusing on its intriguing protagonist with very little deviation. A sense of community spirit is portrayed through a series of talking heads explaining why this man has a particular significance in their lives, and the leafy and generally sunlit surroundings of Bermuda help to give the town of Hamilton and the story of Johnny Barnes’ every-day routine a certain golden glow. A subplot involving the installation of a statue of the man himself, intended to pay homage to Hamilton’s infamous resident, adds another dimension to the piece. Barnes message, that life is sweet, life is beautiful, no matter what happens, is a worthy one, which is given great tribute in this cheery and well-constructed film.