Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #441
Number of Views: One
Release Date: January 21, 2007 (Sundance), November 16, 2007
Sub-Genre: Slacker Comedy
Country of Origin: United States
Running Time: 88 minutes
Director: Gregg Araki
Producers: Gregg Araki, Steve Golin, Alix Madigan-Yorkin, Kevin Turen, Henry Winterstern
Screenplay: Dylan Haggerty
Visual Effects: David A. Davidson
Cinematography: Shawn Kim
Score: David Kitay
Editing: Gregg Araki
Studios: Anonymous Content, ApolloProMovie & Co. 3. Filmproduktion, Desperate Pictures
Distributor: First Look International
Stars: Anna Faris, Danny Masterson, Adam Brody, John Krasinski, Jayma Mays, Marion Ross, Jane Lynch, Eric Chen, Wei Wang, Brian Posehn, Rick Hoffman, Joey Coco Diaz, Michael Hitchcock, John Cho, Danny Trejo, Richard Riehle, Natashia Williams, Carrot Top, Dave “Gruber” Allen, Dylan Haggerty, Michael Shamus Wiles, William Zabka
Narration: Roscoe Lee Browne
Suggested Audio Jukebox
 The Chemical Brothers “Star Guitar”
 Ladytron “Destroy Everything You Touch”
Gregg Araki is living proof that you should never give up on your dream. After making his directorial debut in 1987 with $5k in his back pocket, he has gone on to amass quite the following and currently has a dozen films under his belt. His much celebrated Teen Apocalypse Trilogy, comprising Totally Fucked Up, The Doom Generation, and Nowhere grabbed widespread acclaim for its unique take on teen alienation and sexual discovery.
Often as mad as a sack of screaming ferrets, they went on to gain cult status and echoed his own quiet frustration at growing up a little different from the average adolescent. This trifecta of off-the-wall, hallucinatory pearls of wisdom established him as one of the most diverse independent filmmakers on the circuit but eventually every kid matures and, in 2004, he showed another side to his game.
Mysterious Skin, was questionably his finest work to date and certainly his most complete. However, just as The Coen Brothers followed up No Country For Old Men with Burn After Reading, Gregg was also looking to deviate from the path of the stony-face and into more lighthearted territory. He had first read Dylan Haggerty’s script for Smiley Face years previous and instantly it resonated with him. He wasn’t alone either as his entire cast shared the sentiment. This, in turn, created a synergy which made a grueling three-week shoot pass without hitch, despite a miniscule budget and incredibly tight schedule. If you’re looking for a labor of love; then you’ve just found it.
Araki had only one person in mind when casting lovable sloth Jane F. and ultimately that was all he required as Anna Faris stepped up to the plate with boundless enthusiasm. Hers is an incredibly challenging role as she provides the backbone for the whole film and is onscreen for almost its entirety, often close-up. Any lapses in comic timing would be magnified tenfold, but then, when did Faris ever miss a single beat with regards to comedy? Precisely.
The Scary Movie franchise may have long since ceased being funny but her recurring presence as Cindy single-handedly kept it afloat for far longer than it warranted. Her talents don’t stop at comedy either although it is here that she has found her true vocation. Few comic actors have her form and fewer still can orchestrate it so effortlessly. She has an uncanny likeability about her making not rooting for her an utterly futile endeavor.
We are right up in her grill from the very start as our doe-eyed stoner sloth gets high on her own supply which, we suspect, is the norm. Then those munchies hit and, upon quick reconnaissance of the refrigerator, we are introduced to an array of delightfully crafted cupcakes with an accompanying note from her roommate Steve (Danny Masterson), instructing her to snack on them at her peril. Needless to say, forward thinking isn’t Jane’s strong suit at this point so she ravages the sworn-off stash before that all-important second thought can be processed. Problem is, these aren’t your average dainty delights, and are loaded to the icing with pot, leaving her in a state of consciousness well above that of a normal functioning human being. Come to think of it, she can barely operate at the best of times.
One of the advantages of frequenting oblivion is that you come up with the most ingenious ideas. Alas, every up must be accompanied by a down, and the fact that partaking ransacks your get-up-and-go to do a damned thing about these light bulb moments is one such reality check. It’s not that she doesn’t devise a strategy and with the very best of intentions; rather that her best laid plans amount to precious little once things invariably go awry. Jane has a bill to pay before her electricity is cut-off, an audition to attend, and an ATM to stare at indefinitely while she figures out how it functions. While that doesn’t appear a particularly challenging to-do-list, another Steve (Adam Brody) then enters the fray and spots her for a bag of replacement gear. She has every intention of using that to cook up a fresh batch of cupcakes but we all know how that’s going to pan out.
So now she has to find her way to the 33rd Annual Hemp Festival in Venice Beach by 3 p.m. pronto or she will be left to deal with his entourage of removal specialists and that means surrendering her most prized possession, her sweet beloved bed. This is unthinkable to her, thus she fires up the oven and begins to sauté the hash. Do I need to point out that calamity isn’t far behind her? Actually, it’s one step in front and she is left as mortified as a stoner can be, while not really being fussed by anything in particular. Had I mentioned it has been suggested that her roomie may have a tendency to fuck skulls when not looking at her with absolute odium? If she needs further motivation to get her ass in gear then there it is.
Smiley Face then follows our fair maiden as she sets out on her mercy mission and focuses on the comedy of errors that ensues. This includes unwittingly smashing a boy’s toy car before she can claim her seat on public transport, wandering into a meat processing plant without the vaguest idea what she is doing there, and eventually getting her hands on the original Communist Manifesto. Things escalate pretty quickly and this calls to mind Martin Scorcese’s glorious noir After Hours as it highlights every one of her series of unfortunate events brilliantly en route to her ultimate redemption. To truly inhabit Jane’s desperation it is preferable for me to keep things a little hazy, thus her misadventures are best left vague. Let’s just say that things don’t go according to her fairly flimsy plan.
While it is a delight watching Jane become increasingly dazed and confused, a film such as Smiley Face relies on her interaction with those of a different mindset. We’ve all walked into a service station high as a kite and attempted not to arouse suspicion at some point I’m sure. It’s like having a dirty little secret that nobody else knows the handshake for and we feel as though everybody else is on an entirely different plane of existence from our own. However, when time is of the essence and failure begins to loom, it becomes necessary to let others into our little bubble and bank on their sound judgement to see us through. Jane has in her possession a little black book of sorts and calls on it for inspiration once things invariably start going to pot.
Enter John Krasinski (The Office) as noble nobody Brevin, her knight in shining corduroy, and the man most likely to drink soda from her gym sock when left unaccompanied in her boudoir. His infatuation with our homeopathic heroine is as clear as the jizz on his sweater cuffs and he is quick to leap to her aid in the vain hope that she will take further leave of her senses and find him the slightest bit attractive. His is but one of the pawns in Jane’s game and any hopes Brevin harbors of a flourishing romance are severely misguided as her love affair is only with herself, but his blundering presence is duly appreciated nonetheless. Meanwhile, back at her apartment, Steve #1 is busy greasing up that skull and one step closer to unearthing her cup cake treachery.
Jane Lynch also supplies incalculable support as the casting director for her ill-fated audition. She exhibits the kind of disdain which has gained her a quiet following and there’s more than a dash of Sue Sylvester about her as she vocalizes her contempt regarding Jane’s lack of preparation and threatens to blow the whistle. Danny Trejo and John Cho are amongst the others along for the wild ride and narrator Roscoe Lee Browne keeps us in the loop by way of running commentary as she learns each harsh life lesson, before forgetting mere seconds later. Her epiphany, when it comes, will be slight as it likely won’t stop her from hitting up the bong the moment she walks back through the door. Araki’s tale isn’t damning of her lifestyle choices; neither does it glorify the scene. It simply allows us to view the world through her bloodshot eyes.
By all accounts, we should find Jane F. somewhat stand-offish as she is narcissistic in the extreme and out solely to satisfy her own heart’s desire. However, Faris gives such an enigmatic turn that it is impossible not to warm to her and this performance ranks amongst her very finest in my humble opinion. Should you not be familiar with her body of work then I implore you to play detective as the rewards are numerous once you do. The whole burden of kindling Haggerty’s screenplay rests squarely on her slumped shoulders and she takes to it with more purpose than our protagonist can ever dream of possessing. There will be those who will find her performance veers a little too close to caricature but I assure you that she walks that fine line with the grace of a ballerina throughout.
I’m no stranger to the unnatural high and can attest to the authenticity of Jane F.’s plight, although my version of events never involved a Ferris wheel or skullfuckery. A stoner’s intentions are honorable and we don’t mean to be self-obsessed, it’s just that charity begins at home in such circumstances. Pot has an uncanny way of helping us to realize our true vocation in life, at least momentarily, then reminding us that said evolution can wait until another day. Smiley Face captures the vibe remarkably well and with a consistently sunny outlook which makes it hard not to love, just like our babe in the woods herself. Araki even throws in a little psychedelia as an additional bargaining tool. If that doesn’t put a smile on our faces, then I guess we really are totally fucked up.
Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 8/10
Richard Charles Stevens
Keeper of The Crimson Quill
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