Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Smiley Face Best If You Provide Your Own

Smiley Face
Directed by Gregg Araki
Running Time: 88 minutes
Originally Released: January 21, 2007 (Sundance Film Festival)

* (out of four)

I’ve never smoked pot. I’ve seen it, twice. Only once was anybody smoking it, and it made me uncomfortable. I wanted to leave the situation, but I was stuck in the backseat of a car, wishing I had never agreed to hitch a ride with some high school classmates that I hardly knew and didn’t even like. Several years later, teaching college, I was clueless when a student asked me if I had celebrated “4/20.” (I was soon informed that “4/20” is the unofficial holiday dedicated to smoking pot, which apparently is common knowledge among college students.) Needless to say, I don’t fit the targeted demographic for a movie like Smiley Face, a stoner comedy about, you guessed it, getting stoned.

It may seem utterly unfair that I would even review a movie about a young woman so high on marijuana that she can do little more than pull funny faces as she scampers around Los Angeles, trying to score more weed. As someone who has never experienced first-hand the side effects of pot, watching Smiley Face may be a futile attempt at trying to understand an inside joke I was never meant to hear. That’s a legitimate complaint, I suppose, but I’ve been surprised before. I enjoyed 1998’s Half Baked immensely more than I expected to, for example. But, unlike Smiley Face, Half Baked didn’t require its viewers to be stoned in order to make them laugh. Or at least I’m guessing that’s what’s required in the case of Smiley Face, whose laughs are—for the sober person, at least—few and far between.

Jane (Anna Faris) is a wannabe actress; “aspiring” might be too strong a word, given that Jane reserves most of her energy for lighting up her bong, scarfing down tortilla chips, and playing video games on her laptop computer. She lives with a roommate, Steve (That ‘70s Show’s Danny Masterson), who gives her the creeps and speaks to her mostly via belligerent notes left around the house, reminding her to pay the bills and otherwise be a responsible adult. The notes don’t help much, of course. When Jane gets the munchies, she willfully disregards Steve’s handwritten request not to consume the plate of cupcakes he is saving for an upcoming party, only to realize soon thereafter that the cupcakes themselves were laced with marijuana. This poses a fourfold problem for Jane. First, she must replace the cupcakes. Second, she must get more marijuana to put into the cupcakes. Third, she must attend to her other responsibilities of the day, which include paying the power bill and going to an audition. And fourth, she must do all of the above while stoned out of her mind.

Hilarity ensues. Or at least that’s the idea. Fortunately for everyone involved, Faris is a proven comic talent who makes Smiley Face infinitely more likable than it otherwise would have been. With a knack for physical comedy and an unrelenting willingness to embrace her own geeky charm, Faris avoids the embarrassment that almost any other actor would have suffered as a part of this movie. A good deal of Smiley Face is comprised of close-up shots of Jane, either staring blankly ahead as if she’s just had a lobotomy or slack-jawed, befuddled, and panicked as she tries to evade the many folks she perturbs throughout the course of her journey. Faris pulls it off with her dignity intact, faltering only because the material she is working with is so far beneath her. Fortunately, Faris’ star is still rising, with the actress allegedly attached to the long-awaited Ghostbusters III and slated to star in the remake of the 1980 hit comedy Private Benjamin, originally starring Goldie Hawn. Faris, who has more recently been supplying vocal talent for animated films—Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel, and the forthcoming Yogi Bear and Happy Feet 2—deserves the attention that such prominent roles will bring to her, and it is my hope that her résumé as a whole will spike in quality as a result.

Smiley Face features a surprisingly extensive and familiar supporting cast, with most of the roles amounting to no more than cameos. Among those who appear are Adam Brody, John Cho, Christopher-Guest-favorites Jane Lynch and Michael Hitchcock, Danny Trejo, Brian Posehn, Jim Rash, and Marion Ross. Of special note is John Krasinski, who plays the nerdy and solemn Brevin, a loser whose affections for Jane make him a last-ditch resource when Jane struggles to find transportation to a hemp festival in nearby Venice, where she is scheduled to meet her dealer. Aside from Faris herself, Krasinski proves the highlight of the film.

Smiley Face isn’t devoid of laughs. It features a handful of laugh-out-loud moments, but they arise only in the midst of an otherwise incredibly boring film. Bear in mind that, with Jane stoned throughout the entirety of the film, the movie is meant to be almost uninterruptedly funny. That means that a lot of humor is falling flat. As a case in point, what appears to be the filmmakers’ most concentrated effort at soliciting laughter from the audience—a banal instance of a dimwitted person suddenly delivering an articulate and rousing speech—feels more like an opportune time to take a bathroom break for all the humor it affords. Better yet, skip the film altogether and treat yourself to something you know you’ll enjoy. Cupcakes, for example. What you put in the cupcakes is entirely up to you.


  1. I think Smiley Face is totally hilarious, but you do have to have kind of experienced a lot of stoner things to get the jokes. http://stonerdiary.wordpress.com

  2. Thanks for stopping by and sharing your opinion, Stonerdiary. As I said in my review, I realize I'm not among the intended audience, so it's probably unfair for me to critique the movie in the first place.

    I've looked at some other reviews of the movie, and from what I can tell, most critics thought it was at least decent. I assume the largely positive reviews are due to critics either having experience with marijuana themselves, or attempting not to sound uncool by admitting they don't get what's so funny about it.