Smiley Face
No amount of pot makes taking the bus any easier.

Theatrical Release Date: 11/16/2007
Director: Gregg Araki
Cast: Anna Faris, Danny Masterson, Adam Brody, John Krasinski, John Cho, Danny Trejo, Jane Lynch, Jayma Mays, Scott ‘Carrot Top’ Thompson, Roscoe Lee Browne (narrator/hallucination)

Depending on your dedication to independent film, you may or may not know the name of Gregg Araki. He’s directed a number of bizarre films, packed with B, C and D-list actors, which usually revolve around substance/sexual abuse, hyper-violent acts, over-exaggerated national/cultural stereotypes and/or aliens.

If you ever want to really trip out while experimenting with pharmaceuticals in college, just give “The Doom Generation” or “Nowhere” a whirl in the DVD player. You’ll either discover these films affect you in some unexpected fashion (as “Nowhere” did for me when I first saw it in theaters) or you’ll be saying “What the fuck?” about seventy times a minute until you either reach the end of the film or stop the DVD.

Araki’s material is usually darkest and most deviant when he’s writing and directing. It also usually doesn’t make much linear sense, i.e. the Kafka-esque metamorphosis in “Nowhere”. I don’t actually trust people who tell me with a straight face they understand everything that goes on in his films … nor will I say that I have the answers either.

This isn’t completely true, however, when he’s using someone else’s source material, as was the case with 2005′s “Mysterious Skin“, where he was adapting from the Scott Heim novel of the same name. Due in large part to a stunning and powerful performance by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, this film made sense while still dealing with some very raw and disturbing issues. If you can handle them, this was one of the standout films of the year and a can’t miss for the true independent film geek.

This brings us to Araki’s latest venture, “Smiley Face”. Now on DVD, the story is much lighter in its themes (for the most part) and I can’t quite tell if Araki is mellowing out or if he just needed a little bit of calm before the next storm. I’m sure it helps that Dylan Haggerty wrote the film, giving Araki a somewhat more normal framework to base his style upon.

In “Smiley Face”, Anna Faris plays a pothead, with a capital … (you’d get this joke if you saw the film). Her only goals on this day are to pay the power bill and make an acting audition. After unintentionally consuming a large batch of pot cupcakes, things go awry and she embarks upon one sad (but twistedly funny) adventure after another, trying to accomplish her initial goals and solve the problems that develop along the way.

There are many scenes highlighting the problems that being baked out of your mind can cause and Araki makes the most out of them. I especially loved one scene where Faris delivers a masterful speech, eloquent and thought-provoking – and then we get to see what the other non-altered people actually hear her say. Sure, there are a number of problems with different characters’ motivations and much of the plot is over-the-top and ridiculous. But when you’re making a movie about being stoned, keeping it real doesn’t make for much entertainment.

Like most of his other films, the film is loaded with recognizable actors who seem to just want to be in one of his films, regardless of the plot or script. It’s like he’s the dark, bent version of Robert Altman. Not only did he land Faris, there are appearances by John Krasinski, Adam Brody, Danny Trejo, John Cho, Danny Masterson (performing the most twisted act of the entire film) and a host of others. There’s even a quick cameo by cinema’s greatest bully, William Zabka.

I hope that you’ve realized by now that this isn’t a film where a lot of thought is necessary, or desired really. It’s like a super-stoner version of that South Park episode where the boys had to return the “Lord of the Rings” DVD to the video store. I’m guessing that if you were in some altered state of mind, the significance and/or enjoyment factor would go up. As I was stone cold sober (for the duration of the film at least), I doubt I was the intended demographic.

With a slight grin, I give “Smiley Face” a 3 out of 5. It could have been funnier and some of the long pauses that Faris takes throughout the film to accentuate her impaired state can be a bit of a drag on the pacing. Still, it gets the passing grade because it does what it intended to do and if you love stoner films, feel free to check this out. If not, then move along little doggy.