Friday, March 04, 2011

Smiley Face

Originally Written and Posted at on 3/20/09 w/ Additional Edits.

Directed and edited by Gregg Araki and written by Dylan Hagerty, Smiley Face tells the story of an aspiring actress whose lack of ambition and love for marijuana collide when she goes through an entire day of journeys to pay the electric bill, do an audition, and everything else while under the influence of some high-octane marijuana. A stoner comedy that relies on low-brow humor and surreal imagery, it's a film that is led by Anna Faris playing the role of its leading stoner Jane. Also starring Adam Brody, Danny Masterson, Jane Lynch, Marion Ross, John Krasinski, Danny Trejo, John Cho, and Roscoe Lee Brown as himself and narrator. Smiley Face is a hilarious, witty stoner comedy from renowned indie auteur Gregg Araki.

Jane is an aspiring actress who doesn't do much in her life but get stoned and get stoned. Yet, her laziness and lack of ambition along with her mass consumption of marijuana has annoyed her roommate Steve (Danny Masterson) who is planning a party with fellow sci-fi/horror geeks. With Steve leaving some instructions for Jane to pay the electric bill while not eating some cupcakes that he made for his buddies. Jane instead eats the cupcakes which revealed to have marijuana inside. Stoned out of her mind and with an acting audition at around 11 in the morning. She realize she needs to make cupcakes for Steve's buddies as she calls in her dealer also named Steve (Adam Brody) who gives her some pot though she owes him some serious money. Steve the dealer warns her to give him the money she owes by 3 in the afternoon at a hemp festival in Venice Beach or he'll have to take away some of her furniture.

Jane's attempts to make a cupcake becomes a disaster due to a phone call as she hopes to get money from her bank account while realizing her only source of financial income is to sell some high-quality, government made marijuana. Still stoned and unable to drive her car due to her paranoid mind, she ends up riding the bus where she made a boy upset by crushing his car and being late for her audition. At the audition for a casting director (Jane Lynch), it becomes a disaster as she even tried to sell pot to the director. On the run, she is forced to dump the weed and find money by calling in one of Steven's sci-fi buddies in Brevin (John Krasinski) who has a crush on Jane. Brevin gives her a ride and is willing to loan her money which he doesn't have at the moment but Jane's stoned state of mind only troubles things. Even when his wallet is stolen while Jane goes to the house of a former professor where his mother (Marion Ross) gives her a rare manuscript of The Communist Manifesto.

After a troubling encounter with a man (Michael Hitchcock) at a laundry room, Jane goes on the run where she meets a couple of meat delivery guys (John Cho & Danny Trejo) while making some weird political rants to a meat delivery boss (Richard Riehle). With The Communist Manifesto in her hands and hopes to get to Venice with help from a motorcycle girl (Natashia Williams), can Jane get the money she owes and return the famed Marxist document back to its owners? Or will her stoned state of mind ruin it?

Stoner films often are driven by ludicrous plots and plot-points of how one character goes from one place to another. What screenwriter Dylan Hagerty does is take a character on a journey while remaining stoned throughout. Therefore, a series of misadventures happen with lots of mayhem ensue. The script isn't meant to be high-octane as its emphasis is on low-brow humor yet it works because Hagerty creates a protagonist that people can laugh at. It's not because she's cruel, she's just a stupid stoner that has no idea what she's doing.

Director Gregg Araki does play it straight with the film while adding some stylish shots to the film for its atmospheric take on what is going through the mind of the stoner with wavy shots and sequences that are downright funny. While the filmmaking is a step-down to what Araki did in his previous film Mysterious Skin. Araki understands that this is a genre film as he plays up to the cliches of the genre with some visual tricks including some CGI and shaky cameras. With Araki serving as editor, he creates a film that is rhythmic and to the point with some jump-cuts to emphasize on the character's state of mind. Overall, it's an excellent, funny, and smart comedy from Gregg Araki whose filmmaking techniques proves to be masterful in a stoner comedy.

Cinematographer Shawn Kim does nice work with the film's photography as it's mostly show on location in Los Angeles with nice exteriors shots and camera tricks that play up to Jane's stoned state of mind. One of the best shots includes a scene in which Jane's roommate is doing things with a skull where everything is in red. Production designer John Larena with set decorator Peggy Paola and art director Helen Harwell is excellent in recreation of The Communist Manifesto along with sci-fi toys that the character Brevin owns. Costume designer Alix Hester does a fine job with the contemporary look which included fake dreadlocks for Adam Brody, hippie clothes for some of the characters while everything else is straightforward. Sound designer Steve Avila and editor Trip Brock do fantastic work with some sound layering for scenes where the character of Jane hears multiple things in her head. Visual effects supervisor David A. Davidson does excellent work in the look of some animation in Jane's head like the smiley face and the opening credit sequence with some nice animation.

Music composer David Kitay brings a nice score with melodic arrangements to play up to the film's humor as well as adventurous side. Yet, the soundtrack which have been one of Araki's strengths in his films is phenomenal. Featuring tracks from Mojave 3, the Chemical Brothers, Starlight Mints, Ladytron, Talking Heads, A Flock of Seagulls, a remixed track of the Stone Roses' Waterfall, and two hilarious cuts from Arena rock stalwarts like Styx and REO Speedwagon are used greatly. Notably the Styx and REO Speedwagon to emphasize Brevin's love for Jane.

The casting by Monika Mikkelsen is superb with cameo appearances from the likes of comedian Brian Posehn, Carrot Top, Dave "Gruber" Allen, Jayma Mays as an auditioning actress, and 80s film legend William Zabka are memorable and funny. Other small appearances from Danny Trejo and John Cho as meat delivery guys, noted character actor Richard Riehle as the meat boss, TV legend Marion Ross as a professor's mother, Michael Hitchcock as a laundry guy, BBC TV star Natashia Williams as a motorcycle rider, and Jane Lynch as a casting director are all funny. Danny Masterson is excellent as Jane's creepy roommate while Adam Brody is very funny as a pot dealer who tries to deal with a stoned Jane about her debt. John Krasinski is great as Brevin, a nerdy guy who has a crush on Jane as he's willing to do anything for her though is unclear on how stoned she is. Though he doesn't appear in the film, Roscoe Lee Brown does do some funny narration, even as he talks to the audience and to Jane about her hilarious situation.

Finally, there's Anna Faris in what is truly an amazing performance. Faris is a master in comedic acting and she does so with such physicality and exuberance that she knows how to make audiences laugh. Even without having to delve into cheap gags or crude humor, Faris is aware that her character is a complete imbecile but doesn't make her seem dumb. Faris' performance is truly the great work of an actress that is at the top of her game in a genre where she knows how to make people laugh while being the butt of jokes throughout.

While it's nowhere near the brilliance of Mysterious Skin, Smiley Face is still a fine, well-made film from Gregg Araki featuring a superb performance from Anna Faris. Fans of Faris will no doubt see this film as one of her best work proving that she's one of the best comedy actresses working today. Fans of stoner films will enjoy the film's unique sense of humor while seeing a director like Araki bring some charm and wit to the genre. In the end, Smiley Face is a film that delivers its namesake as Gregg Araki and Anna Faris make sure audiences have a good time watching a nice stoner film.

Gregg Araki Films: (Three Bewildered People in the Night) - (The Long Weekend (0' Despair)) - The Living End - Totally Fucked Up - The Doom Generation - Nowhere - (Splendor) - (This is How the World Ends) - Mysterious Skin - Kaboom - (White Bird in a Blizzard)

(C) thevoid99 2011

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