SMILEY FACE

R
Reviews

This is your movie. This is your movie on drugs. Any questions?

That's the giddy feeling that permeates the smile-inducing Smiley Face, a pot-fueled fairytale that finally gives Anna Faris a full showcase for her prodigious talent. Stoner comedies need the Lubitsch touch, the kind Ernest gave to films starring the likes of Greta Garbo and Carole Lombard, and which the usually unsmiling Gregg Araki gives us here. And Faris gamely goes Garbo and Lombard one better, taking her cute little firecracker looks and being willing to go full-out to appear appropriately, hilariously awful when the story calls for it.

The story, in this case, is the simple, episodic quest of Candide-like innocent Jane F. (Faris), a struggling but mellow actress in a bleakly suburban L.A. She loves videogames and morning bong-hits—neither of which has helped her career, judging from the notes left by her silently glaring, sci-fi/fantasy-geek roommate Steve (Danny Masterson of “Malcolm in the Middle”), who warns that the electric bill has to be paid, in person, today. Hey, no worries, man!

Worries, man. After getting the nuclear munchies and ingesting a whole platter of pot-filled cupcakes, Jane finds herself higher than the International Space Station. She pulls herself together enough to devise a plan that involves baking replacements, getting to a morning audition and making it across town to Venice Beach, where she can settle her tab with another Steve, her pot dealer (Adam Brody of "The O.C."). But that first step trips her up, to speak, and soon poor little Jane is desperately trying to get places via foot and various bummed, and occasionally bummed-out, rides. A sausage factory, a hemp festival, and an original 1848 copy of Karl Marx's The Communist Manifesto all figure into her peripatetic perambulations.

So do a great number of cult-fave character-actor cameos, including by Brian Posehn as a bus driver, Marion Ross as a professor's wife, Danny Trejo and John Cho—"Harold" himself!—as two meatpacking employees, Richard Riehle as their boss, “Mad TV”’s Michael Hitchcock as a laundry-room guy, and Christopher Guest regular Jane Lynch as a narc-ing casting agent. John Krasinski of "The Office" has a larger role as a smitten nerd. Jane's conversations with the narrator, the late Roscoe Lee Browne, are surreally sharp and silly, while the soundtrack, wonderfully odd, includes such vintage pop songs as Styx's "Lady" and REO Speedwagon's "Keep On Loving You." Old potheads can sing along, and younger ones can laugh at them.

The trippiest thing about all this is that director Araki's oeuvre is more along the lines of such serious, psychosexual films as The Doom Generation (2005) and gay comedy-dramas and tragedies like Totally F***ed Up (1993) and Mysterious Skin (2004). That he had this full-of-heart lighter side and such a sympathetic yet cautionary feeling about drug use and users is revelatory.

That First Look Pictures is giving the movie only a cursory release before dumping it onto DVD—the company's website already lists it only in the "Home Entertainment" section and not "Pictures"—is, on the other hand, a shortsighted crime. If the $9 million Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle could gross $24 million worldwide, then this trippy delight with the Scary Movie star and a cult-fave director deserves a shot. What, were the First Look executives stoned?