Review: George Seaton's 'What's So Bad About Feeling Good?' is an Oddball Comedy That Targets The Counter-Culture

by Frank J. Avella

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Monday August 30, 2021

A virus is spreading through New York City. No one knows why or how. Officials are advising citizens to wear masks but telling them there is no cause for alarm. There are discussions of quarantining foreigners coming into the city and cutting off entrances. People's throats are being swabbed. Suddenly, there are radical increases in cases. Can anyone stop the contagion?

Is this a gritty new film about COVID-19?

No.

It's a little-seen, oddball comedy from 1968, George Seaton's "What's So Bad About Feeling Good?"

In the movie the virus is airborne, attacks the brain, and makes normally angry and mean New Yorkers feel elated and euphoric. Oh, and it's initially brought here on a Greek freighter by a rainbow-colored toucan.

Our main characters are two beatniks/bohemians played by George Peppard and Mary Tyler Moore, who live in a commune with a gaggle of cynical misfits, including a woman dressed in a burlap sack. Peppard is a misanthropic artist. Moore is a singer whose current song lyric refrain is, "Life was meant to be blue, black and gray."

Peppard is exposed to the toucan and his entire demeanor changes, which initially horrifies Moore. The contagion spreads throughout the city in such a swift manner that the President sends Dom DeLuise to solve the problem. The rush is on to capture the toucan before people are too giddy and loving, and decide to stop buying cigarettes and alcohol and, gads, stop voting!

Peppard and Moore both dive into their caricature roles with panache, and DeLuise is delightfully Strangelovian as a man willing to do what he must to make certain human beings return to their normal state of doom, gloom, fearfulness, and despair.

One of the film's bittersweet and too-brief treats is an unbilled cameo by Thelma Ritter, who got her start in Seaton's "Miracle on 34th Street" in 1947. This would be her final film. (She died of a heart attack in 1969.) Ritter received six supporting Oscar nominations in her amazing career, more than any other actor in history in that category. Sadly, she never won, but she left a legacy of truly extraordinary character portrayals.

"What's So Bad?" targets the counter-culture as well as the government and law enforcement, and yet it comes at it from the middle-class-is-best perspective.

The film is an often-keen satire (written by Seaton and Robert Pirosh) that fears going too far. And there are comedic bits that are hilarious and others that fall flat — even contextualizing.

In his NY Times review Vincent Canby accuses Seaton of confusing hippies with beatniks, citing that flower children aren't "glum and pessimistic." The film does have a late '50s throwback feel to it, yet it also feels quite prescient and modern. Seaton's final three films shared that duality. "What's So Bad?," "Airport," and "Showdown" show us a filmmaker, grounded in the past, with desire to be contemporary.

The Kino Blu-ray offers a terrific 2K master widescreen visual transfer. It looks fabulous. And the sound is grand, as well.

The disc boasts an incredibly enthusiastic audio commentary by film historians Howard S. Berger and Nathaniel Thompson, who are thrilled the film is finally available on Blu-ray (previously, the only way to see it was via a crappy foreign pan-and-scan DVD). They also pay tribute to the great Thelma Ritter.

"The function of art is to reflect the misery of the world," spews one of the beatniks at the beginning of the film. Seaton deliberately inverts this notion. Or does he?

DVD Extras Include:

  • Brand New 2K Master
  • Audio Commentary by Film Historians Howard S. Berger and Nathaniel Thompson
  • Two Theatrical Trailers


    "What's So Bad About Feeling Good?" is currently available on Blu-ray.

    Frank J. Avella is a film and theatre journalist and is thrilled to be writing for EDGE. He also contributes to Awards Daily and is the GALECA East Coast Rep. Frank is a recipient of a 2019 International Writers Retreat Residency at Arte Studio Ginestrelle (Assisi, Italy), a 2018 Bogliasco Foundation Fellowship, a 2016 Helene Wurlitzer Residency Grant and a 2015 NJ State Arts Council Fellowship Award. He is an award-winning screenwriter and playwright (CONSENT, LURED, SCREW THE COW, FIG JAM, VATICAN FALLS) and a proud member of the Dramatists Guild. https://filmfreeway.com/FrankAvella https://muckrack.com/fjaklute