CATEGORIES Comedy, Independent, SXSW, Theatrical Reviews, Cinematical Indie, Reviews, SXSW Film Festival, Cinematical
I'm not ashamed to admit I have a weakness for stoner humor. One reason is that until recently, it seemed to have died out from TV and film, on the grounds that you can't tell kids "Just Say No" and then show characters having a good time saying yes. I liked Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle, and in the same vein of goofy pothead movies, I liked Smiley Face, the latest film from Gregg Araki (Mysterious Skin.) This is Araki's first time directing someone else's script, written by actor Dylan Haggerty.
Smiley Face is about Jane (Anna Faris), a sweet-faced blonde woman who isn't sure exactly how she ended up on a Ferris wheel, but is sure she's feeling pretty baked. The movie then flashes back to Jane's day -- after a quick bong hit, she gets the munchies and scarfs down her roommate's cupcakes. She then realizes that she's eaten an entire batch of pot-laced cupcakes. Wow. Although she's in no shape to do much of anything, Jane realizes that by the end of the day, she has to go to an audition, bake more cupcakes, pay the electric bill so the apartment power won't be cut off, obtain money to pay Steve the Dealer (Adam Brody) so he won't take her brand new luxurious bed away and meet Steve in Venice (we're in So. Cal here) at 3 pm to pay him off.
You might imagine how this story will proceed: In Jane's attempts to accomplish these seemingly simple tasks, more and more troubles will balloon out of control and, as with Harold and Kumar, finally some magical things will happen to solve every little problem for an upbeat ending. However, Neil Patrick Harris does not materialize in this movie to make everything all right. Although the events in the movie are silly, the film does not let Jane escape unscathed from the experience. Anti-drug advocates who fussed over a Jack-in-the-Box commercial about munchies will probably condemn this film, but can take small comfort in the fact that Jane ultimately has to pay for her pothead lifestyle.
I am not going to lie to you -- this is not exactly a multilayered, thought-provoking film. If you're a big Araki fan, I'm not sure how you'll react to Smiley Face. The storyline is slight and the film succeeds only because of Faris's performance. She is able to switch from adorable to disgusting in about five seconds and has a wonderful range of facial expressions that still manage to convey someone who is continually stoned. And when she looks happy -- Jane is happy most of the time, even when she's trying to hide from her pursuers -- her face lights up brilliantly. Faris is supported by a solid cast of character actors: Adam Brody from The O.C., John Krasinski from The Office, Jane Lynch from any number of Christopher Guest films and even Marion Ross. Danny Trejo shows up briefly but is wasted -- not in the drug sense, but in the sense that he doesn't get enough to do.
Normally I don't like humor based on humiliation, where we're supposed to laugh at characters who end up looking stupid, but Smiley Face works for me because Jane never feels humiliated or dumb or ashamed. She may not quite understand what's going on, but insults and funny looks from strangers just roll off her back and she flashes that sweet and spacey smile. If Smiley Face has a message, it's that Jane may be screwed up but at least she's continually happy. We see stressed and upset people throughout the film (and not all because of Jane, either): angry commuters stuck in traffic, people standing next to wrecked cars, unhappy victims of theft. But Jane leans back and enjoys a motorcycle ride on the way to another thorny situation, unworried and carefree.
Smiley Face is the kind of movie that will be more fun to watch with a big audience than alone on your DVD player -- and even more fun if you have a beer or two beforehand. The film is scheduled for a limited release starting on 4/20, which just about says it all, I think.