Closing the Year with a Bong -- er -- Bang

I see by the old calendar on the wall that this is almost certainly my last posting of 2007, and I'm happy to leave the old year on a positive note. Gregg Araki is not a filmmaker known for his keen sense of humor, so the idea of a slapstick comedy directed by the auteur of Mysterious Skin sounds less than appealing. However, his newest film, Smiley Face, which is currently playing at the IFC Center in Manhattan, is a giddy stoner frolic, equal parts Preston Sturges and Cheech and Chong. The film powered by a delightfully vacant performance by Anna Faris as Jane F, a stoner actress who manages to devour an entire platter of marjuana cupcakes that her ominous apartment mate (Danny Masterson) has baked for a sci-fi convention he is hosting. She also manages to get in dutch with her dealer (an amusingly detached Adam Brody in dreads), her agent, a casting director, a Marxist professor and what appears to be half the LAPD.

Smiley Face is a fairly entertaining example of a subgenre of comedy that Sturges, among others, raised to a sort of demented perfection, the tale of a single day of cumulative catastrophe. It's not hard to think of examples: Hawks's Bringing Up Baby and Monkey Business leap to mind immediately, as well as numerous Sturges films, particularly Christmas in July and Mad Wednesday. All a filmmaker has to do to make one of these work is to find the perfect Rube Goldberg snowballing logic of disaster and start the machine rolling. Araki and screenwriter Dylan Haggerty have the advantage of a ready-made story illogic, since Jane's reactions to reality are inevitably a bit left-handed. It would be very easy, under the circumstances, for them to allow the film to be washed away on a euphoric cloud of dope smoke, casting anything resembling plot to the four winds, but they are too smart to fall into that trap.

The film is aided immeasurably by Faris's performance. She's like something out of a Tex Avery cartoon come to life, her eyes swiveling wildly, periodically bugging out of her head, her chin seemingly receding into her neck as she desperately tries to parse the grammar of a drugged-0ut reality. Araki accompanies her with a crazy day-glo palette, alternating with the drab colors of reality. The final shots are a perfect melding of the two, balancing orange jumpsuits against the muddy earth of suburban California. The result is an engaging, frequently very funny comedy of escalating errors, a very pleasant way to end the calendar year.

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