Directed by Shaka King
As a rule, pot movies are funny movies, playing up exaggerated stoner stereotypes for (usually cheap) yuks. Even Gregg Araki’s Smiley Face, a high point of a high genre, lazily featured a hallucinated talking dog. From Cheech and Chong to Pineapple Express, marijuana movies put the audience at a remove from its blazed heroes so we can laugh at their ill-reasoned hijinks, softening the drug’s public image. But Newlyweeds—note the extra e—is different. Tracking a Bed-Stuy repo man (Amari Cheatom) and his museum-guide girlfriend (Trae Harris) as they transition from casual drug users to drug abusers, it’s funny, especially the repo scenes, as the characters come up with increasingly outlandish schemes to gain access to their quarry’s apartments. But it’s not really a comedy: it’s a fundamentally serious movie about chemical dependency that also has a few laughs.
It features many of the usual silly signifiers: weird food combinations, naps, impeccable stoned logic. But it also balances them out with the other side of chronic usage: the professional fuck ups, the general undependability and paranoia that can accompany it. Don’t get me wrong: I’m pro-legalization, but I think marijuana advocates can be disingenuous. I’ve seen some of the best minds of my generation mellowed into marijuana complacency. I’ve seen friendships strained over chip-downs. I’ve seen people wake up in the morning, roll out of bed, and smoke an L to the face—people who needed a hit to go to work or get through an afternoon. Weed’s not inherently evil, but it’s not totally harmless, either.
And Newlyweeds gets that, in a non-hysterical manner highlighting how you can’t just get fucked up all the time, even if it’s just a joint here and a bowl there and a bit of smoke everywhere, without it catching up with you. (Suggesting there is something inherently chucklesome about weed, the movie loses all its humor once alcohol gets involved, and the hero experiences that Brooklyn rite of passage of passing out on the F train and waking up halfway to Coney Island.) The movie also illustrates—subtly, maybe even unconsciously for the director—how our marijuana laws accelerate the deterioration wrought by drug abuse, especially for people of color. Before the drugs can even do their damage, an unjust and inconsistent system will.
Opens September 18 at Film Forum