Happy 420: Our Favorite Stoner Flicks
In celebration of 4/20 today, we here at Talk Film Society offer a brief list of our favorite films featuring or about marijuana. You don't have to get high to enjoy these films, but maybe it might alter your outlook.
Up in Smoke (1978)
Cheech and Chong’s first movie was one of their best, the comedy duo took their stoner personas to the big screen in 1978 with Up in Smoke, and it sparked the doob that was the popularization of stoner culture in mainstream movies. Having said that, Up in Smoke is a dumb movie, about dumb people doing dumb shit; but that doesn’t mean the film isn’t funny as hell. Regardless of whether or not you're burning a fattie or swallowing a lethal amount of LSD, it’s not just to the groovy populace of the flower generation that act foolishly; the cops, led by a hilariously straight-laced Stacy Keach are complete idiots as well. Up in Smoke is one of the movies that everyone has their favorite takeaway and there’s plenty to choose from. Chong’s massive joint (which is mostly dog shit), the tweaker girl blowing three fat rails of Ajax, a carful of nuns getting pulled over after a discarded (and yes, oversized) fattie falls in their window, bumbling cops masquerading as Hare Krishnas, and who could forget a truck made out of weed?! It’s all very silly, but everyone seems to be having a good time. If seeing the “Earache my Eye” finale where Chong is wailing on the drums like Animal and Cheech dancing around with a pink tutu, Mickey Mouse ears and pasties doesn’t make you chuckle then you should turn on, tune in, drop out, and light up!
- Alex Miller
Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle (2004)
The stoner comedy was barely treading water in the early 2000s. It had been over twenty years since the last Cheech & Chong movie had come out. A void was desperately needing to be filled because the approximately 200 National Lampoon's movies releasing straight-to-video each year weren't cutting it. Enter Harold & Kumar, two handsome high achieving smokers that throw away all of their responsibilities for one night to achieve one goal: find a White Castle, no matter what the cost. In their quest to eat some tiny hamburgers, the duo run into numerous wacky obstacles, racist police officers, lazy coworkers, disappointed parents, and a crazy trucker with a gross eye. The most famous gag involves Neil Patrick Harris as himself, an insane sex maniac who steals Harold's car. Along the way the two's friendship is pushed to the limits, and ultimately they gain the courage to tell off the people in their lives who are putting them down and Harold gains the confidence to ask out the girl at his apartment that he likes. With a simple premise, hilarious moments, surprising heart, and a ton of weed, John Cho and Kal Penn reinvigorated the Cheech & Chong-style buddy stoner comedy, perfectly making the case for why it is still a relevant genre for the 21st century.
- Marcus Irving
F. Gary Gray made his directing debut with this 90s stoner comedy written by DJ Pooh and Ice Cube. Friday launched the film careers of both Ice Cube and Chris Tucker and became a classic in Black Hollywood. Friday is a slice of life movie about two friends who smoke weed that belongs to a dealer and try to get the money to pay him back. The characters are wacky and madcap, played by a terrific cast of veterans and up-and-comers. Ice Cube shows some great comic timing as the chill Craig who gets mixed up in this crazy world. But the real standout is Tucker, who delivers a frantic and excitable comic performance. Gray’s direction keeps a frantic pace, and the script has many amazing lines and catchphrases. But the best achievement is that Friday shows a Black neighborhood not as a nightmarish hellscape but as a whole fully-formed community. Friday was one of the first films to show that living in the hood could be sort of fun for these characters. Gray creates this entire world and it feels lived-in. Friday is not only hysterically funny, but it has an authentic vibe that cannot be recreated.
- Manish Mathur
Pineapple Express (2008)
Pineapple Express, the pot comedy-action movie hybrid, came out around the time the James Franco and Seth Rogen team-ups were relatively fresh. It also helps that Franco and Rogen found roles perfectly suited to their sensibilities. Rogen stars Dale, a process server who has a high schooler for a girlfriend and is a pretty big pothead. Because he drops his blunt while running away from a murder scene, he ends up being on the run with his pot dealer, James Franco’s Saul. Rogen was born to play the dim-witted straight man to Franco’s dim-witted clown. They both end up making their escape from drug runners and crooked cops continuously worse for themselves as it all ends in a fiery shootout at a marijuana farm. What is it exactly that keeps setting them back? It’s the marijuana. Saul can’t help but be Brad Pitt in True Romance levels of high at all times, and Dale has the limited capabilities to realize that perhaps pot can’t be the answer to all the questions. But, the film chooses not to be anti-pot—of course not, that’s not what you’re here for. When Dale and Saul reach the end of their journey, they end up igniting the bad guy’s pot supply, engulfing them in hazy marijuana-laced smoke. To top it all off, after their late night caper, they have breakfast, as if they partied the night away. It’s fun time, man. Not convinced, yet? Huey Lewis and the News comes in with an ‘80s sounding theme made specifically for the movie. It’s a fun time, man!
- Marcelo Pico
Inherent Vice (2014)
While not dealing explicitly with weed in its central plot, Paul Thomas Anderson's sunshine noir is made for watching under the green influence, if only to have a better means of occupying the same headspace as its P.I. protagonist Larry "Doc" Sportello (Joaquin Phoenix). As we follow Doc on his journey to discover there whereabouts of a missing ex-girlfriend (Katherine Waterston) that ends up involving a real estate magnate, a smack-addicted saxophonist, and a foreboding syndicate known as the Golden Fang, the mystery deepens as everything seems to be connected in some way that feels like a chore to parse through. From the very start, the wide-ranging color scheme contrasted with heavy shadows and an ominous sensibility play differently under a paranoid state, and the story's narrative which is hard to make out sober, feels easier to grasp in mentality on weed where one is constantly ruminating/anticipating the past/future, but not thinking too much about the immediate present moment. PTA found inspiration for adapting Thomas Pynchon's novel in the works like Robert Downey Sr.'s Putney Swope and the films of the Zucker Bros., along with more well known oddball mysteries like the Coen Brothers' The Big Lebowski and Robert Altman's The Long Goodbye. The most prominent example of these influences melding can be seen in how late '60s counterculture to the spotlight is elevated, with a satirical edge retained throughout that sporadically re-emerges to add some levity to the proceedings. Not your typical stoner cinema or the kind of narrative that can easily be discerned, Inherent Vice wants the viewer to find themselves immersed in the eclectic charms that are offered, rather than turning their brain off and sinking into the couch.