Smiley Face

Anna Faris in Smiley Face (dir. Gregg Araki, 2007).

[Thanks to Mike Hauser for recommending this!]

The little I remember of Gregg Araki's doom-and-gloom extrusions of decadent Gen-X trauma from the 90's has long since settled into a puddle of muted indie hysteria, but last year's Smiley Face is a flawed, sweet treasure. It is no more nor less than a vehicle for Anna Faris to push one button over and over and over: the "I am so stoned" button. And she does this with such determination, such high (get it?) seriousness, that if this turns out to be her best performance ever, it will be enough.

The plot of the film is as elegantly simple as one can imagine: woman ingests way, way too much pot and must subsequently go around trying to do things. There are at least two ways this premise could go wrong: by idealizing her cannabis haze so that what is really just stupor emerges as a privileged mode of insight that yields ultimately happy results, or by squashing its comic aspects under a pessimistic mass of neo-Menckenesque social excoriation. If Araki errs in one of these directions, it is more the latter than the former, but for the most part he doesn't do either in an obvious way, hence the arguments over whether this is a hedonistic stoner comedy or a tendentious anti-drug satire.

Even if he does err, it doesn't really matter. It all comes back to Faris, and her ability to be completely winning and completely pathetic ("pa-thet-tick," roommate Danny Masterson sneers) at the same time. In the throes of her wastedness, she looks up into the sky as a huge golden smiley face forms, gleaming and twinkling. She returns the smile, religious rapture spreading outward like sunshine from her own face. Suddenly the face in the sky morphs into an angry skull that levels a growling damnation at her. She cringes and cries out, in that instant becoming the most vulnerable and wounded of beings. It all passes with the next sensation. Or, catching a ride from a friendly prole (John Cho), she switches abruptly into libidinous abandon, swiveling around in the passenger seat, gaily leering: "Why don't we just fuck?" before it's revealed as only a brief fantasy. She's absolutely irresponsible, and absolutely blameless. This is the naked American fantasy--seductive as a sticky green bowlful, and destructive as an all-consuming cloud of paraquat.

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