After fifteen years of feverishly trying to convince the indie film world that his spiked sense of humor was something worth paying attention to, director Gregg Araki now lowers himself to the level of a stoner comedy, but he's not going down without a fight.
Jane (Anna Faris) is an unemployed L.A. actress with a sweet tooth for marijuana. With her sci-fi nerd roommate (Danny Masterson) gone for the day, Jane steals his stash of cupcakes to satisfy her munchies, only to find the treats have been laced with pot, thus elevating her high to near-paralyzing altitudes. Now in a race against time to replace the cupcakes, make a crucial audition, and ingest the holy combo of orange juice and corn chips, Jane stumbles all over the city, hoping to achieve serious goals of redemption, but only managing to drag herself deeper into trouble.
While structured in the tradition of a Cheech & Chong motion picture, "Smiley Face" is a little more determined than straightforward giggling and gleeful stupidity. With a minuscule budget that looks as though it was pulled from between the producer's basement couch cushions, "Face" is a threadbare stoner farce customized to Araki's iffy vision for art-house absurdity, chugging along mixing broad comedy with little surrealist jabs and overworked insert punctuation.
When I write that the picture stinks of Araki, I mean the moments where Jane's imagination, or hallucinations, are all given advanced visual definitions, often when the leap is completely unnecessary to make. I've never found myself enchanted by the director's tiresome button-pushing work, so hopes were sky high that "Face" would at least temper his corroded cinematic impulses, since Araki mercifully didn't write the script (credited to Dylan Haggerty).
"Face" is a more dialed down production from Araki, but it pained me to see the filmmaker try to erase what subtlety there was in the script by underlining every joke with screen clutter. Araki needs to calm down and tell a story for once, not leap around like a no-budget Spielberg attempting to fancy up every sentence that crosses his path. Something as sublimely simple as "Face" would've benefitted greatly from a director comfortable enough to let the picture assume its own personality.
I mean, seriously, just because Jane believes her roommate engages in demonic ocular sex with human skulls doesn't mean we have to see it.
Most, if not all, of the appeal of "Face" is placed on the shoulders of Faris, and she embarks on a tour de force performance of slack-jawed, frosting-stained marvel that extracts the biggest laughs from the film. She's fearless in her portrayal of chemical transparency, indulging in delicious body language clowning that speaks miles about the character and Faris's comedic endowments. The actress carries the movie like a champ, taking what Araki and Haggerty have to offer in leadership and transforming it to suit her talents. She's played this sort of distant hero before, but Faris is deeply skilled when it comes to fizzy disinterest. She turns playing dumb into a Lucyesque art form.
Whenever I lost faith in "Face," with its eye-rolling asides into nerd puppy love (with co-star John Krasinski), the containment of a communist manifesto, and the joke casting of Adam Brody as a pot dealer, Faris was always there to erase the headaches with her tuned-out, feisty, panicky realization of dangerous marijuana consumption. It's a lovely piece of bongwater-splashed idiocy.
While presented in anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1 aspect ratio), "Smiley Face" looks like a DVD slapped together over one long, disinterested day. With muted, bleeding colors, various film defects and scratches, and the appearance of "cigarette burns" during reel changes, the image isn't the worst DVD I've ever seen, but certainly one of the more unprofessional efforts of the last year.
The 5.1 Dolby Digital tracks offers great clarity with the host of sound effects Araki employs to embellish Jane's state of mind. The dialogue is crisp and balanced well with the soundtrack cuts.
"Behind the Scenes with 'Smiley Face'" (10 minutes) is a rather unenlightening piece of congratulatory fluff. Interviewing cast and crew on the set, the featurette has editing, sound, and uptight participation issues (I suspect producer Kevin Turin was questioned at gunpoint), not to mention a bland "everything is great!" attitude that doesn't shed a single beam of light on the filmmaking process.
A theatrical trailer is included, along with peeks at "The Boys and Girls Guide to Getting Down," "Sleeping Dogs Lie," "Big Nothing," "Relative Strangers," "The Contract," "Broken," "Guy X," "Paris Je T'Aime," "King of California," "Sex and Breakfast," "Blonde & Blonder," "The Amateurs," and "Day Zero."
With a distancing amount of insider L.A. gags, a useless diversion where Lucy tries to assume the posture of a meatpacking union organizer, and suffering through Araki's more fruitless visual touches, "Smiley Face" is a difficult film to embrace. Thankfully, there's Faris to save the picture, beaming through cloudy material with a droopy smirk and heavenly giggle that goes further than any jack-hammered punchline.
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