“Smiley Face” directed by Gregg Araki
“Angel's Egg” directed by Mamoru Oshii
By Adam Lee
A change-of-pace stoner comedy from Gen X provocateur and melancholic shoegazer Gregg Araki, “Smiley Face” inverts all the director’s principle transgressions while still carrying their subversive punch. Anna Faris plays Jane F., an unemployed actress who sets out on a havoc-wreaking odyssey to settle her utilities bill, pay back her trustafarian dealer (a dreadlocked, Reaganomics-spouting Adam Brody), and replace the eaten weed cupcakes her terrifying, possibly skull-fucking roommate (Danny Masterson) set aside for a sci-fi convention.
Normally typecast as diminishing variations on ditzy promiscuity, Faris' schtick is here relieved by the context of weed and mildly redeemed by playing an ex-econ major failed by the economy who is now too far gone in a haze of smoke to be lucid about it anymore. A rare copy of “The Communist Manifesto” ends up being a MacGuffin that sneaks in a political dialogue, poking fun at lapses in stoner logic while still giving credence to its grievances.
Though it strays from full on connecting how the war on drugs makes it easy for white stoner problems to be this mild, a bit where Jane F. gives a rousing speech about unions at a slaughterhouse a la Jane Fonda in Godard’s “Tout Va Bien” only for the movie to reveal she was rambling incoherently is a welcome gag. It also brings Faris’ disastrously inept attempts at damage control back to Godard’s partial inspiration for that film, Jerry Lewis.
Araki frames intoxication as dangling between paranoia and euphoria, rendering miscommunications with squares as hostile communiques from the world of sobriety and fairly obvious connections as epiphanic revelations. An intertitle revealing a failed attempt at dealing with depression/anxiety by taking up the clarinet suffuses the dead-ends and hysterias of her journey with the catch-22 of herbal remedy, where coping with the void can either assuage or amplify the abyss. Ideally this will do the former while allowing you to relate to the latter.
Like Jane, my highs go from bliss to blunder relatively fast so I like to outsource my sense of personal ruin to an aesthetic of physical ruins while maintaining some semblance of wonder in the cosmos. Fractured, contemplative space epics like “Solaris,” “Dune,” et al are particularly useful in this regard but one needs some works that don’t abhor the universe they’re operating in. “Angel’s Egg,” with a few qualifications, works.
After Hiroshima, Harry Truman thanked god the atomic bomb came to the US instead of its enemies. J. Robert Oppenheimer, during nuclear testing at religious poetry-inspired “Trinity,” recalled passages from the Bhagavad Gita on the “splendor of the mighty one” in “the radiance of a thousand suns” before remarking “I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.” Angel’s Egg, directed by Mamoru Oshii (“Ghost in the Shell”), considers the meaning of religious symbols in a world cleansed by their genocidal impulses. Here, a mercenary with a cross-shaped sword follows an orphan harboring the titular egg through, possibly, the remnants of the civilization wiped out a la Noah’s Ark, an ironic, fatalistic interpretation of which makes up the film’s only lengthy conversation.
Recalling England after the Blitz while echoing a Japan haunted by Hiroshima, the landscapes are abound in damaged Victorian architecture that, with gargoyles and skeletal remains fit for a natural history museum, is Lovecraftian in its liminality and Giger-esque in its occasional glimpses of pulsating, transmogrified technology.
Slow and enigmatic, the film’s immersive abstractions work as free-floating metaphors. The ghosts of fishermen wage an eternal hunt for a floating phantom of a coelacanth, echoing both the damaged ecosystem and main characters unsure what to make of their Sisyphean existence, murmuring high as hell ruminations like “maybe you and I and the fish exist in the memory of a person who is gone.” A struggle between the girl, her egg, and the mercenary with the cross-like sword suggests maternal grief over expected roles of giving life in a religious construct devoted to death.
While this suggests an overly morbid experience, “Egg” is lovingly animated in painterly fashion by one-time “Final Fantasy” designer Yoshitaka Amano (the mercenary bears a passing resemblance to Cloud Strife from “FF7”), and plays like Moebius’ “Arzach” if meshed with the grace of Ursula K. Leguin instead of the horned-up T&A fest of the “Heavy Metal” movie. That the film’s producer later co-founded Studio Ghibli speaks to its gentle handling of environmental fragility, which is also an ideal way to be handled when stoned.
“Friday” directed by F. Gary Gray
By Dominic Griffin
The monolithic black experience is a myth, but referencing the charming minutiae of 1995’s “Friday” may be the closest thing to universality among African American audiences there is. To say the F. Gary Gray's directorial debut is quotable is selling it short. If you’re conversant enough in the film’s memorable passages of dialogue, it can act as a Rosetta stone between any two parties who’ve seen it at least once. As filmic transliteration for decoding popular culture, it’s matched only by “The Godfather” for sheer ease of use. It isn’t just the quality of the jokes themselves, which range from pedestrian at best to corny at worst, but the timing of each expertly observed bit of character and its nuanced juxtaposition between comedy and tragedy.
In the pantheon of stoner cinema, however, “Friday” remains something of an outlier. It lacks the colorful absurdity most movies designed to watch under the influence paint their broad strokes in, but as narrative principally surrounding marijuana, it’s a measured, canonical exploration of the popular pastime: “Friday” unfolds over the course of a single day, structured something like “Glengarry Glen Ross” but with considerably less brutal use of profanity. Craig, played by Ice Cube (who also penned the screenplay), has just been fired from his job at UPS, on his day off no less, and has nothing to occupy his newfound free time. Enter Smokey, the single greatest performance Chris Tucker ever gifted to the masses. In Smokey, Tucker finds a vehicle for his ample charisma and unique vocal delivery he’s not been able to match in the ensuing two decades. Smokey is an on screen sidekick par excellence, landing somewhere between Daffy Duck and the Loki of Norse mythology in terms of alignment. His only goal is to smoke all the time, remain free from stress, and on this particular fine “Friday,” get Craig high.
The film’s first half unfolds at a leisurely pace that might just seem like amateurish screenwriting, but the film is purposely cleaved into two distinct halves. The first, an unhurried series of tragicomic vignettes laying out the scope of Craig’s neighborhood, with a perspective reminiscent of “Rear Window” at times, if not Lars Von Trier’s “Dogville.” Cube essaying the part of a brother who’s never smoked a day in his life experiencing his first high may be the finest acting of his admittedly underrated career, but the decisions he and Smokey make stoned seed plot machinations in the film’s more serious back half: Big Worm, Smokey’s supplier, threatens to kill both men if they don’t get the $200 of weed the pair smoked up to him by the end of the night. Smokey and Craig get high to escape their troubles, but in their hazy half-life, they merely beget new, life threatening problems.
And “Friday” is one of the few films to glorify weed as much as it casually demonizes it. Smokey saying “weed is from the Earth” with sage like certainty while Rick James’ 'Mary Jane' plays in the background continues to be as iconic a co-sign of herb as you’re likely to find on celluloid. But the film doesn’t shy away from the paranoid and inherent danger that can accompany the drug trade, even on as low a level as Smokey plays it. Their blazed negligence proffers easy laughs for a start, but it also slowly moves them up the Maslow hierarchy from the self-actualization of weed smoke to pleading for safety from gun toting drug dealers. The seemingly throwaway gags and bits of the first act reappear as legitimate roadblocks for these men escaping their new predicament.
Here, weed represents a gateway drug to cinematic adventure and an easy structure to present these densely layered microcosms of hood culture, all culminating in the film’s Greek chorus witnessing the most satisfying display of fisticuffs in cinema history, as Craig is called upon to go full Attitude Era WWF on bully Deebo (Tiny Lister Jr.), skirting many of the questions the narrative has raised in exchange for a genuinely cathartic finish. The film reinforces the self-medicating procrastinator’s approach to problem solving, as the conclusion presents the kind of happily ever after Deus ex Machina you’re likely to pray for the minute you spark up.
“Newlyweeds” directed by Shaka King
“A Goofy Movie” directed by Kevin Lima
By Nia Nicole
This 2013 feature debut from Shaka King is a classic love story: Boy meets girl, boy falls in love with girl, both boy and girl fall deeply in love with Mary Jane—so much so that boy and girl develop a bit of an addiction. Wait—what? Starring Baltimore's own Trae Harris as Nina, a museum guide by day, and furniture repo man Amari Cheatom as Lyle, this film should be a cult classic and probably would be if it were easier to package as just another stoner flick. Instead, it's part stoner comedy, part rom com, part relationship crumbling drama. It takes a more profound and not always comedic look at what it's like to be in love with a pothead.
Nina's inner struggle with her dependence on pot is particularly impressive because girls don't get to be portrayed as weed smokers on screen all that often. There is a great scene involving kids and weed brownies that really conveys the level of “oh shit” that pot has established in Nina’s life. With Lyle, the stakes are bit higher, as his dependence unravels far deeper issues that perhaps Nina and Mary Jane can't hope to fix. And yet, “Newlyweeds” never feels like a D.A.R.E. commercial for not smoking up. Just a sensible reminder to smoke more reasonably. There is a laconic coolness to the film, full of everyman twentysomething-style characters that feel both relate-able and almost unobtainably hip. Trae Harris as Nina is as memorable as Diane Keaton in “Annie Hall.” I’ve watched this film sober and high and it was awesome both times.
For a less serious weed movie, check out the low key 420-friendly classic that is 1995's “A Goofy Movie.” Obviously, this movie should be watched when you're high or better yet, completely stoned—so high that Goofy isn't even funny anymore but just...sublime. The colors are perfectly neon and nineties, the soundtrack swings with Tevin Campbell's falsetto and then there is the bold, inspiring, audacity of Goofy's teenager son, Max and his quest to impress his crush, Roxanne. “I’m going to be on TV, the Powerline Concert,” Max tells her, which is like, really Max? He must have been high when he came up with this plan. Who tells their crush that they’re gonna be on TV and doesn't have a plan to do it? But we all know how this ends, with a cartoon Tevin Campbell dancing on stage with a light show that puts that Light City Festival to shame. This movie is great to watch high because it’s Goofy. Everything Goofy does is…fucking Goofy. Then there’s the classic, embarrassing Dad trope which will never get old. Pair that with the fashion of the ‘90s, the “yo Stacey” bit that everyone still remembers and you have a feel good stoner flick. ‘Cause come on, Goofy did drugs. I’m positive he did. I like to think that Goofy had a medicinal marijuana hook-up to take the edge of his anxiety.