In a variation of the old maxim about comedians yearning to play tragedy, it would appear that every artsy, indie filmmaker secretly wants to make a pothead comedy. Evidence includes Richard Linklater’s 1993 cult fave Dazed and Confused, David Gordon Green’s upcoming Seth Rogen saga Pineapple Express, and now Smiley Face, Gregg Araki’s day-in-the-life-of-a-stoner lark. Said stoner is one Jane F. (Anna Faris), a struggling actress and full-time bonghead first seen stuck atop a Venice Beach Ferris wheel in deep conversation with the disembodied narrator (Roscoe Lee Browne). How she got there is an A-to-Z catalog of gags, freakouts, and cameos that finds Araki ditching the concentrated intensity of his great Mysterious Skin for the scattershot satire of such earlier teenage wastelands as Nowhere and Splendor. While those portraits of alienated youth where waist-deep in anger, Araki’s latest is surprisingly mellow in its examination of ganja-fueled apathy; despite an evocative hallucination when the titular grinning circle morphs into a roaring skull, the maverick filmmaker mostly rolls along with the scatological gags in Dylan Haggerty’s screenplay. Starting out as a string of stoned reaction shots pulled like taffy, the film eventually makes a stab at a plot when the perpetually baked Jane devours the science-project cupcakes of her creepy roommate Steve (Danny Masterson) and embarks on a journey to replace them, which naturally becomes a trip to the hemp festival on the other side of town. There are brushes with lovestruck nerds, affable drug dealers, casting directors, and sausage-factory workers along the way, though the film never pushes them beyond skit-like silliness, and even Faris, an underrated clown who labors to find different ways of essaying her character’s look of glazed cluelessness, can’t expand the film’s solitary joke. Araki’s straightest (in every sense of the word) feature, Smiley Face is nevertheless scarcely free of the director’s subversive touches. What other pothead flick, after all, stages the protagonist’s obligatory wacky monologue as a shout-out to Godard’s Tout Va Bien and climaxes with pages from Marx’s Communist Manifesto raining down on slackers?
- First Look International
- 88 min
- Gregg Araki
- Dylan Haggerty
- Anna Faris, Danny Masterson, John Krasinski, Adam Brody, Dan Falcone, Jane Lynch, John Cho, Danny Trejo, Marion Ross, Richard Riehle, Natashia Williams, Brian Posehn, Rick Hoffman, Roscoe Lee Browne
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