This week marks the 20th anniversary of the release of Richard Linklater's seminal "Dazed and Confused," a movie that celebrated that sweet spot in between adolescence and adulthood, the super sounds of the '70s, and of course, marijuana. In "Dazed and Confused," classic rites-of-passage are dutifully dramatized, from ritualized hazing to awkward first encounters with girls, but pot is something else—it's symbolic of taking a stand, of not playing by The Man's rules. It's also something that makes any number of the characters giggle uncontrollably. There's something beautiful, transcendent almost, about the weed-smoking in "Dazed and Confused," especially as the movie concludes with a sunrise toke on the high school football field. It also got us to thinking about ten of the very best, like, stoner movies man!
Stoner movies have to walk a finer tonal line than you give them credit for, since they have to appeal to both the straightlaced and the chemically cloudy and they seemingly have to be endlessly rewatchable. You know, for stoners. There are certain tenets that almost all of them have to include: a sequence where the pot makes them paranoid (or gives them shoddily visualized hallucinations), a tribute to the ever-present munchies, and of course, a vow (whether heartfelt or not) to quit the sticky icky for good.
We also decided to only include movies where marijuana is a crucial part of the story. Movies that use pot as tangential plot devices, like, say, Danny Boyle's "The Beach" or Guy Ritchie's "Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels" (or, bizarrely, the new "Friday the 13th" remake from 2009), were purposefully left off the list. Instead we wanted to focus on the stoner movies that are really stoner movies. So sit back, relax, and blaze up. This piece is best read through a foggy haze of bong smoke.
You have to admire, at the very least, the charmingly low stakes of "Friday": it's a movie about a couple of stoners (Ice Cube and a pre-"Rush Hour" Chris Tucker) who have to come up with $200 (!) or they're going to get their ass kicked. That's pretty much it. Instead of getting hung up on things like plot and character motivation, of course, the movie instead luxuriates in the good vibes associated with two friends hanging out and smoking weed on the porch. The movie crackles with wonderfully hangdog dialogue, occasionally delivered in Tucker's machine gun rattle ("Man… You ain't got no job… you ain't got shit to do!") An unlikely franchise-starter, "Friday" was followed by two sequels (neither starred Tucker) and a short-lived animated series, but more importantly established Ice Cube as an audience-friendly comedic presence after the rapper made a dramatic splash in John Singleton's "Boyz N the Hood." It also established a subgenre of the "urban" stoner movie which has been photocopied endlessly in the years since but, like questionable marijuana, has also been diluted and infused with dodgy additives.
"Harold And Kumar Go To White Castle" (2004)
One credit to this particular subgenre is that movies about toking up frequently pack the casts with characters and actors of diverse ethnic backgrounds. Which is why when Danny Leiner introduced the world to high-strung Harold and laid-back pal Kumar, the world collectively accepted bit-part actors John Cho and Kal Penn as just another couple of bud buddies, stretching improbably through three movies. The first picture is a silly, inspired take on cottonmouth, finding the two stoners having a late night pow-wow and immediately needing to feed their faces, heading out for a colorful odyssey to the famous restaurant of the title. Along the way, a few detours lead them to come face to face with Neil Patrick Harris, who subtly reinvented his career by playing a version of himself as a sex-obsessed pothead trafficking on his then-minimal fame as “Doogie Howser, M.D.” “Harold And Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay” takes the story into the direction of an all-out road picture, with the duo running afoul of the Bush administration’s stodgy policies, represented by a rogue NSA agent played with insane glee by Rob Corddry. Finally, “A Very Harold And Kumar Christmas” seems to exist only for the sake of lowbrow 3D comedy, and on that level, it delivers: there’s nothing negative to say about a stupid, gimmicky holiday-themed pot comedy that actively mocks the fact that it’s being presented in 3D. In fact, this holiday treat might be the very best of the bunch. And not just because of the amazingly hallucinogenic stop-motion animated sequence.
"Dude Where's My Car?" (2000)
It’s not the destination but the journey, is a maxim that can easily be applied to the dopey but surprisingly sweet “Dude Where’s My Car?” whose title pretty much tells you the entire plot of the movie. When two best bud potheads, Jesse (Ashton Kutcher) and Chester (Seann William Scott) wake up with no memory of what happened the day before, that’s just the start of a surreal adventure that involves pudding, Chinese take out, the Continuum Transfunctioner, five super hot alien babes, all while they have to please their girlfriends, played by Jennifer Garner and Marla Sokoloff. So not only do they have to save the universe and of course find the car, they have to not be “sucky boyfriends.” In retrospect, perhaps the most remarkable thing about ‘Dude’ is how clean it is, especially compared to the other movies on this list. The PG-13 rated movie has no nudity or f-bombs and even the drug use is surprisingly absent. But make no mistake, these guys love “shibbying,” even coining nicknames for themselves, Jonny Potsmoke and Smokey McPot. But this is the rare pot movie about the day after the blaze and even for its low ambitions, ridiculous story and even sillier characters, “Dude, Where’s My Car” has (surprisingly) endured, and in the right frame mind, is perfectly hilarious. Dude, sweet.
"Smiley Face" (2007)
Some guys take some pretty unusual detours in their path to the “mainstream": Queer Cinema vanguard Gregg Araki tried to break into more audience-friendly filmmaking with this willfully weird pot comedy that didn’t catch on, possibly because it so specifically captured the vibe of being entirely too baked. Anna Faris gives an absolutely genius performance as a woman so beyond blitzed thanks to a powerful mix of loaded brownies that she can’t even complete a day’s worth of chores, and as she stumbles in a nearly-literal haze, her dizziness goes from hilarious, to tragic, and then right back to brilliantly funny. An able supporting cast includes the likes of Danny Masterson, Adam Brody, John Cho and even Danny Trejo, but to their credit, all they have to do is react to this space cadet who can’t even see straight. Araki packs the film with a few memorably cheap gags, but he’s smart enough to keep the camera fixed on his star as she rolls in and out of the frame like a turtle in its shell, reaching a pot nirvana in the third act as she begins to speak with voices. Specifically Roscoe Lee Browne, as himself. Faris hits all the right notes, particularly in a closing monologue that represents a pitch-perfect encapsulation of how erudite pot smokers think they are as they ramble on listlessly.
"Leaves Of Grass" (2009)
One of the brainier of all pot comedies, this unusual genre stew manages to cram a crime thriller into a pot comedy as well as a twin caper and a study of nature versus nurture. Tim Blake Nelson’s ambitious, oddly philosophical gumbo finds Edward Norton as a straight-laced philosophy professor who is lured to his backwoods hometown because of the death of his pot-growing twin brother. Turns out the brother, also played by Norton with a wildly different haircut, temperament, accent and fashion sense, is another kind of genius. He's the inventor of a unique hydroponics system designed to grow and maintain enough marijuana to supply the entire state, but he also has to convince his academic brother that he’s dead. The whole ruse is meant to create an alibi in order to facilitate a criminal power move that involves the murder of a local Jewish kingpin played with over-the-top menace by Richard Dreyfuss. Yes, it’s a bit involved for a pot comedy, but scenes where the two Nortons interact bristle with weed-fueled intellectualism, particularly when it comes across that the aggressive mispronunciation of Heidegger is simply one Norton subtly trying to flatter the other. It’s the sort of set-up that would lend itself to dumb yucks, but Nelson loads his film with smart actors (Keri Russell is a highlight) who find the curious humanity behind the self-conscious backwoods clichés.