While Gregg Araki's early films have been the subject of much debate, the tide began to change with his impressive Mysterious Skin -- delving into the troubling world of molestation with class and depth. His accomplishments continue with Smiley Face, in a light and stoned capacity, of course. For his latest, Araki has dipped into the world of comedy and shows that he can leave many of his usual, challenging themes behind and make an easy-to-serve, and completely fun, mainstream comedy.
Anna Faris is Jane -- a struggling, pothead actress -- who somehow travels from point A -- her couch, to point Z -- the top of a ferris wheel. How she got there is a strange melange of events that puts Dude, Where's My Car to shame. Earlier that morning, Jane fired up her bong and got nicely stoned. In a munchie daze, she looks in her fridge and discovers a platter of cupcakes on which her roommate (Danny Masterson) has written a note for Jane to keep her hands off. Thinking she'll just eat the cupcakes and make more, Jane devours each and every one -- and only after does she realize that the cupcakes had pot in them. From there, Jane exists in a sea of stoned stupidity and verbose clarity (at least, in her own mind). Her adventure consists of a few well-meaning to-do lists and a strange collection of characters who throw wrenches into her careful, 19-minutes-of-thought plan. Unlike many stoner comedies that rely on stupidity and a verbal sea of the word "dude," Smiley Face is the smart-person's dumb flick. It soon becomes apparent that Jane isn't just some flighty stoner -- she's a smartie-turned-stoner. She went to the school, and she knows her stuff, she's just too stoned to communicate it. In a scene with her dealer, a tattoo-laden, dreads-wearing Adam Brody, she doesn't go on about the power of weed, but argues with him about whether his dealing is capitalism or Reganomics.
Of course, it isn't just a collection of semi-lucid and intelligent conversation. Jane is too stoned to do just about anything. Her car gets maybe 2 inches out of her spot before she is exhausted from the stress that it brings. The bus just ain't for her. Sitting in a dentist's office is agony -- especially when it is followed by insistent questions from a cop. Some guys don't like to be bothered when they're doing their laundry. Step by step, she gets farther from her goals as life's chances complicate her plan, as well as her revised one, because this chick may be too stoned to act rationally, but there's always enough mental capacity left for a list.
These scenarios are fueled by an impressive cast of comic mainstays. John Krasinski is both sweet and creepy as the guy who is in love with Jane -- whether she's looking polished, or treating her face for acne. The ever-wonderful Jane Lynch gives Faris a run for her money as the casting director. And heck, there's even a little Marion Ross. Unfortunately, Danny Trejo doesn't get as much screen love, and is relegated to a brief bit as a sausage truck driver. This is also the last film from beloved television actor Roscoe Lee Browne (who you might remember as Benson's replacement on Soap), who plays himself as a voice inside Jane's head. (He passed away earlier this year.)
These days, most dumb comedies aren't too concerned with reality, but Smiley Face reminds us that you don't need aliens or other weirdness to make a dumb movie fun. You just need a balance between the stupid and the smart. Araki's comedy gives us the best of many comedic worlds in an incessantly funny, easily-quotable serving. From discussions of Marxism to love of lasagna, Smiley Face serves it all -- with some weed and a very, very stoned smile.
For more on Smiley Face, see Jette Kernion's SXSW review of the film.