Smiley Face: A Milestone for Femme Stoners

smiley_faceOne can't say for sure whether Simone de Beauvoir was envisioning the likes of Gregg Araki's Smiley Face when she penned The Second Sex (1949), but in some odd, dyspeptic way, a feminist timeline could be envisioned that places the former at point A, and the latter at point Z.

Yes, finally, a half-century later, a tedious, empty-headed stoner film focusing on a female pothead, Jane F. (Anna Faris), who's limited to one facial expression and lines such as "I'm totally vibing on you, dude," has arrived just in time to greet the New Year. Santa must have thought we were very, very bad.

The film commences with Miss F. stuck on a Ferris wheel conversing with the actor Roscoe Lee Browne, and discovering that she really is chatting with herself. Now if you find this humorous, the notion that your inner voice is being played by the late Mr. Browne, an extremely fine actor with mellifluous vocal chords but an extremely low recognition quotient, you might find yourself guffawing for the succeeding 84 minutes, too.

But I'd recommend sprinkling some high quality weed over your popped corn to make certain you'll have a good time.

Why? Because Ms. Faris, best known for the Scary Movie series and Brokeback Mountain, is so one-note and awkward here. Nothing she does flows. Her pratfalls are lumpish, her delivery singsong, and her bag of tricks empty. In fact, she's sort of the black hole of comedy.

This quickly becomes apparent when her co-stars show up and the screen momentarily comes alive. Especially fine is John Krasinski as a noble nerd enamored with Ms. F and getting his teeth scraped in dental offices. Just one ogle from him and you're in hysterics.

The ever-dependable Jane Lynch as a harried casting director and the ever-fetching Adam Brody as a drug dealer who threatens his nonpaying customers not with broken bones but with the removal of their couches, also add merry moments.

This fatuous piece of fluff, however, wouldn't really be so heart-wrenching if Araki's name weren't attached to it. Known for his deliciously absurd, low-budget social satires that bristled with originality and youthful horniness (e.g. The Doom Generation), this revolutionary helmer graduated to greatness with 2004's Mysterious Skin, an unforgiving look at the sexual abuse of youth and the resulting agonies.

"Is he America's answer to Pedro Almodvar? Or Francois Ozon?" you could ask and not feel foolish. After Smiley Face, you can bare summon up a prophecy of his being a third-rate Judd Apatow, although a slyly "Marxist" ending gives one hope.

So let us all take a moment and pray that Araki's muse returns quickly before his next project goes into play... or the only smiley faces he'll be seeing are in his titles. - Brandon Judell

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Mr. Judell, who's currently teaching "Jewish Humor in Film" and "Queer Theater" at City College, has written about cinema for The Village Voice, indieWire, Detour, and dozens of other publications.

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