Film Review


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Newlyweeds

Trae Harris as Nina and Amari Cheatom as Lyle in Shaka King's Newlyweeds. [Photo: Phase 4 Films]

Newlyweeds

Cypress Hill has always been an obvious choice for stoner-comedy soundtracks. Their slow, hazy beats, accompanied by nasally intoned, menacing praises of marijuana, have remained an effective way for Hollywood comedies as recent as This Is the End, Hall Pass, and Pineapple Express to quickly elicit a cool, drugged-out mood. But of all the Cypress Hill soundtrack credits, their song "I Wanna Get High" is perhaps best-suited to Newlyweeds, an indie dramedy about a twentysomething Brooklyn couple, Nina (Amari Cheatom) and Lyle (Trae Harris), whose weed habit clouds their relationship and gets them both into trouble with the law. The film cleverly employs the song to connect two different scenes with very different tones. The song's opening sirens are used to signal Nina's sense of dread after she hilariously performs the Heimlich maneuver on a sugar-happy kid who's just naïvely eaten her pot brownies, and then, as the song's beats kick in and B-Real begins to chant that he wants to get high, the film cuts to Lyle getting blitzed with his friends.

Going neither in the direction of Reefer Madness nor a Cheech and Chong movie, Newlyweeds is both funny and serious, and its depictions of pot-smoking could be read as either promotional or cautionary. Refreshingly, the film's characters don't exist simply to inhale, deliver humorous dialogue, and find themselves in strange situations for our amusement—though they do all of those things here. Nina and Lyle are characters beyond those who smoke pot, to be sure, but at the same time it would be a stretch to say that promising first-time writer-director Shaka King is only using his characters' drug habit as a way to explore their relationship. Like Louie, which King has cited as an influence, Newlyweeds is a little rough around the edges because of the way it tends to favor odd, tangential scenes over a narrative arc with no loose ends, but unlike Louie, the film doesn't offer a sharp-enough focus on at least one of its main characters to allow audiences to connect with them. One of the more striking aspects of the film is its colorful, oddly retro depiction of Bedford Stuyvesant, as it doesn't signify any of the changes that have happened there, but amid a movie season that has featured no less than four docs on the rezoning and gentrification of Brooklyn, it's a welcome oddity.

Director(s): Shaka King Screenwriter(s): Shaka King Cast: Amari Cheatom, Trae Harris, Tone Tank, Colman Domingo, Isiah Whitlock Jr., Adrian Martinez Distributor: Phase 4 Films Runtime: 87 min Rating: NR Year: 2013

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