Among its achievements, Pineapple Express makes explicit much of the underlying homoeroticism inherent in the buddy movie. While films like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid hide the latent gayness of its central relationship beneath a carefully calculated surface of good-natured hetero tomfoolery (with female love interests as decoys), David Gordon Green’s film places these concerns front and center. Which isn’t to say that either of its principal characters is signified as gay—indeed Dale (Seth Rogen) is given an 18-year-old girlfriend while his drug dealer, Saul (a pitch-perfect James Franco), waxes poetic about “sucking on titties”—but through a series of increasingly unmistakable double entendres and a warm-hearted camaraderie whose occasionally crude guy-speak can’t hide an underlying tenderness, the film brings to the fore the tacit assumptions of the buddy movie and winds up offering a useful critique of the genre.
Following the generic template of the buddy film, Pineapple Express‘s principal relationship is forged in the heat of the battle. The movie is also, as advertised, a funnier-than-average stoner comedy; its action turns on a single marijuana joint, loaded with the recherché strain that gives the picture its title. When Dale accidentally witnesses a murder and is observed in turn by the perp, he leaves behind a telltale roach which, given the exclusivity of the strain, ties him and Saul to the scene. Pursued by the murderer, who happens to be Las Vegas’s number-one drug dealer, Dale and Saul shuffle around town, evading danger, getting stoned and drawing ever closer together.
In a moment of reconciliation following the relationship’s central moment of crisis, Saul sums up their friendship in explicitly sexual terms: “They say never to dip your pen in the company ink,” he says, referencing the ban on a dealer becoming friends with his client, “but I’m totally glad I dipped in your ink, bro.” With Rogen playing straight man to Franco’s touchingly naïve pothead, the two form a finely matched, not-quite-odd couple whose increasing emotional proximity is signaled by ever-more-frank expressions of homosexual longing. So when the two men help each other shuck off their handcuffs during the film’s climax and Green plays the scene as an explicit approximation of intercourse, it comes off as not only deft comic staging but an appropriate consummation to the characters’ budding relationship.
Setting aside his trademark small town milieu and pseudo-poetic aural/visual flourishes, Green enters fully and deferentially into Judd Apatow territory, and if there’s any question as to who the real auteur at work is here, it’s quickly answered in favor of the comedic producer, his sour-sweet sensibility outweighing the few familiar visual touches (flashy scene transitions out of Undertow and a few self-consciously lyrical framings) that Green brings to the proceedings. That said, the director seems firmly on board with the material and stages the film’s numerous action sequences with a sure hand, playing them for both well-timed laughter and blood-boiling impact and relying as much on his feel for a given scene’s spatial organization as on rapid-fire cutting in achieving his effect. In one bravura set piece, a tightly staged car chase is offset with just the right amount of absurdist distancing as Saul navigates his way through the Vegas streets with one leg wedged through his car’s windshield.
Only in the climactic showdown does Green’s imagination show any signs of lagging and his violence-as-comedy shtick (the grosser the gag, the louder the laughter) begin to wear thin. Until then, the film remains as assured in its comedic smarts (even if those smarts are often placed in the service of some rather crude yuks) as in its dramatic stagings. But what finally makes the film stand out from its lowbrow brethren is its warm-hearted treatment of its central relationship, a relationship it isn’t afraid to define in explicitly gay terms.