The Film: Reefer Madness (2005)
The Principles: Andy Fickman (Director). Kristen Bell, Christian Campbell, Steven Weber, Alan Cumming, Ana Gasteyer
The Premise: It‘s the 30s. Jimmy Harper (Campbell) and Mary Lane (Bell) are two, clean-cut, conservative teenagers who are in love and destined to live a life full of sunshine, rainbows and happily ever afters. Until Jimmy gets hopelessly, shamelessly and disastrously addicted to that demon weed.
Is It Good: In its way. It’s not great, it’s a little overlong and it has a tendency to grate, but when it’s firing on all cylinders it’s delightful and even when it stumbles every single person on camera seems to be having the time of their lives and it’s infectious.
An adaptation of a stage musical (that itself was an adaptation of the original 1936 propaganda film) it exists as this weird little film-within-a-film, with the Jimmy story being “screened” for a classroom full of unsuspecting parents and members of the small community of Everytown USA, with Alan Cumming acting as emcee/narrator/Andrew-McCarthy-surrogate for the proceedings. For the most part the transitions between the two are fine and the black-and-white interstitials, more often than not, serve as a nice little break from the over-saturated, gratuitously theatrical world of the story proper (so it makes sense that the most annoying and grating part of the film happens when the musicality bleeds over into that world).
But, back to the meat and potatoes of it – before anything else it’s a musical, and as I said before, it’s a pretty good one. It lives and dies on the songs and aside from the opening number (which is where the “musical” aspects bleed over into Cumming’s real-word side of the film), they’re all successful to varying degrees. Catchy and clever, they do a great job of capturing the tongue-in-cheek aspects of it all and I defy you to not get the “Mary Lane” theme stuck in your head for at least a week. There’s a lot of effort put into making everything BIG – which sometimes blows up in their faces – and the satire is sometimes a little too on the nose and self-congratulatory, but they’re minor bumps in an overall pleasant road.
A road made pleasant by not only the songs, but the people singing them. The cast is wonderful and, as I said, before, everybody is having a blast. Weber is wonderfully slimy as the pusher, Gasteyer has some moments of sheer brilliance as his put-upon lover and Campbell and Bell are great.
Is It Worth A Look: Definitely. It’s not a classic and it’s not something you’re gonna wanna revisit too terribly often, but you’ll have a lot of fun watching it. One can only assume that you’d have even more fun were you to devise some sort of smoking game to go along with it. Not that I would know ANYthing about that. Just to give you an example of what this whole thing is, take a look at Robert Torti, as Jesus, making a plea for Jimmy to just say no…
That’s actually a pretty good example of everything right AND wrong with this film, as there’s a tendency here to overdo a lot of things. Luckily enough, they know when to pull back just before you lose interest completely.
Random Anecdotes: I bought this on my lunch break several years ago and had no idea why, when I got back in my car after work, the whole thing smelled like a brownie. Took me until I made it home to realize that it was the DVD case. It was made to smell like a brownie. Six years later? It still smells just as strongly as it did the day I bought it. It‘s kind of remarkable, actually.
Cinematc Soulmates: Reefer Madness ‘36. That one episode of That 70s Show.