' Cinema Romantico: Smiley Face

Friday, February 01, 2008

Smiley Face

At Sundance last year the latest film from Gregg Araki generated some positive buzz and so I made a mental note of it and then never heard about it again until the other week when I was perusing the new releases on Netflix and came across it. I put in the queue but then last Friday while searching for a few DVDs at Blockbuster on a cold, snowy night I happened upon it again and picked it up. And I enjoyed it a whole lot.

Now, you may be wondering why I, a person who has zero interest in drugs and who is perhaps the only male in his age bracket who did not find "Harold and Kumar Go To White Castle" all that amusing, would recommend an unabashed stoner comedy but be patient and I'll get to it.

You see, that's what "Smiley Face" is - an unabashed stoner comedy. It's "Harold and Kumar Go To White Castle" except with one female named Jane trying to get to Venice Beach instead of White Castle. Jane (Anna Faris) is a struggling actress with little ambition, a constant need for the ganja and a roomate she hates. She wakes up one morning, smokes a little pot, gets the munchies, eats her roommate's cupcakes (they are strictly off-limits) which, of course, turn out to also have pot in them, and this leaves her uber-stoned. Tragically, there's a lot she needs to get done that day. She has an audition, plus she has to pay the electric bill in person or else.... But having eaten the off-limit cupcakes she now has to purchase more pot to make some new cupcakes and this leaves her deep in debt to her dealer who advises her to meet him at the hemp festival in Venice Beach at 3:00 or else....

So yeah, it's hi-jinks galore. (The Communist Manifesto also works its way in, but never mind.) I'm not a guy who gets into a movie solely because of hi-jinks, however, and, truth be told, the hi-jinks here aren't even really as semi-entertaining as the hi-jinks in "Harold and Kumar". Neil Patrick Harris doesn't turn up, for instance.

All right, so I don't like stoner movies and I didn't find the hi-jinks in this particular stoner movie all that entertaining. So why am I recommending the movie? Two words - Anna. Faris. This is a virtuoso performance, a total tour-de-force. Really. I mean it. I'm being serious.

You probably know Faris from "Scary Movie" and its who-knows-how-many sequels, though I most fondly remember her as the braindead actress from "Lost in Translation". But her work in "Smiley Face" is extraordinary. "Harold and Kumar" always felt like pawns in some screenwriter's savage game. Jane could have felt the same but Faris makes the whole outlandish enterprise seem authentic.

She appears in every single scene of the movie and in every single scene of the movie she is stoned. The old adage in film acting is that Less Is More but when you're portraying someone who is, as I said, uber-stoned the old adage goes out the proverbial window. More Becomes More. She is required to indulge in dozens upon dozens of whacked-out facial expressions and you never really catch her repeating the same expression twice. None of it feels staged or, shall we say, actressy (?) because she sells everything with such fervor. She flushes her precious government marijuana down the toilet thinking the cops are coming - when, in fact, no cops are coming - and is so proud of herself you can't help but genuinely feel happy for her. Occasionally the film requires her to reign the expressions in (such as when she is unwittingly reading a magazine upside down) and she does it, no problem. Her line readings are hilarious and most especially when the line itself isn't that hilarious.

-"You're talking in riddles!"
-"No problem, my good man."
-"Yes, that's exactly what happened."

She carries the movie. Without her, it sinks into an abyss. It's that simple. Of course, the question then becomes do most people really want to watch a stoner movie based solely on acting ability? I don't know. Probably not. But so be it. I'm not most people. So I recommend it. A lot.

At present everyone and their pet goat is blathering on about how Daniel Day Lewis's performance in "There Will Be Blood" is epic and how he's hell-bent and how it goes-for-broke. Look, I love Daniel Day Lewis. We all know this. For God's sake, I have a poster of "Last of the Mohicans" with his likeness hanging on the kitchen wall. But what's true is true. If you really want an epic, hell-bent, go-for-broke performance ignore the multiplex showing "There Will Be Blood" and go down to Blockbuster and rent "Smiley Face". It will be cheaper, anyway. Every other film critic in America can take Daniel Day Lewis striking oil. I'll take Anna Faris flushing her government weed down the toilet.

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