Smiley Face opens as a would-be LA actress's pot-induced journey stumbles to an end, with blonde stoner Jane (Anna Faris) reflecting on the binge that, as the omniscient narrator (Roscoe Lee Browne) puts it, took a young woman 'from point A to point Z.'
The comedy should draw the under-30 crowd, thanks to Faris' deft blend of earnest innocence and slapstick stupefaction. Given the international reach of Faris' Scary Movie vehicles (soon to be five), Smiley Face could build on that audience in foreign markets; one might say, wherever pot is smoked.
When a stoner film relies on broad physical comedy, as this one does with its star falling down or bumping head-on into anything or anyone in her way, subtitles are barely necessary. Smiley Face also has strong home-video potential for dorm-room repeat rentals.
Gregg Araki's ninth feature is structured around an age-old formula. A well-meaning young woman finds herself in an improbable situation - sitting high above the ground in a ferris wheel in Venice, California.
The movie then flashes back to her big mistake - getting hopelessly stoned on her dour roommate's cannabis cupcakes - which triggers the chain reaction of wild misadventures as she heads to an audition and into the cruel world beyond.
There's a bit of Candide and Jane Austen in the forthright narration, a bit of a Perils Of Pauline picaresque road-trip from one end of Los Angeles to the other. And there's a lot of weed to fuel it.
Make no mistake: Smiley Face, true to its title, is a silly movie, but not one that's stuck in hammy predictability. The farce is a step out of the stoner template of Dude, Where's My Car' and a step up from the teen-market Scary Movie comic-gore series that has earned Faris her fans.
Yet it's not enough of a step up for her to lose those fans on the way. And there's plenty of nuance in Faris's hilarious depiction of stupefaction to win her some new ones.
The lean script of gags, smoke-ingestion and blank stares from Faris was written by the actor Dylan Haggerty, which may explain the absence of explicit sex and dark gay content found in Gregg Araki's self-scripted films. Araki's direction is largely limited to directing Faris, whom the camera follows from one mishap to the next.
The palette of Jane's odyssey, shot by Shawn Kim, is mostly in the primary colors that are easy for the addled eye to recognize. Is he anticipating a stoned audience'
No money from what looks like a super-low budget wasted in John Larena's production design, as the action zig-zags through apartments, offices and other ordinary LA locations.
Just as ordinary is the film's approach to make-up. Most of the time, Faris looks as if she's not wearing any. As her character Jane would say, 'No problemo.' She still looks fine in a close-up, another reason why Smiley Face will be watched by those casting future projects.
First Look Pictures
First look International
H Jason Beck
Roscoe Lee Browne