Ever since Jon Stewart shook the world of journalism to its core by suggesting that Scent of a Woman is far better while stoned, it seems like our entire culture has centered around answering that age-old question: Does the modern man appreciate cinema better while high, or are they just more impressed by the stupid thoughts their brains were already having?
I will discover the answer to this question, even if it kills me. And in the interest of full disclosure, there is a point in this experiment where I smear cream cheese all over a bran muffin because I thought it was vanilla frosting and a chocolate cupcake, respectively. It took me an embarrassing length of time to realize my error.
My point is, strap the fuck in.
Up in Smoke
Up in Smoke, a seminal entry in the "stoner film" genre, chronicles the adventures of "Man" (Tommy Chong) and Pedro (Richard "The Cheech" Marin) as they drive a car made of hardened marijuana across the Mexican border. Other things also happen.
Up in Smoke is important because it establishes some very strict "stoner movie" patterns that every movie on this list will follow closely: We have two lead male characters on a journey with a loose (if defined) goal, who encounter multiple bit characters and an antagonist that is only tangentially (if at all) related to the main plot. Remember this part, because it'll get important later.
The movie opens with the clearly 40-year-old Tommy Chong being told by his parents that he needs to get a job or he's going to military school, so let me just say that I had trouble suspending my disbelief and was not immediately hooked. But, I gotta say, the movie eventually won me over through the freaking expert-level delivery and physical comedy: Cheech and Chong's characters have become archetypes, and you can see them establishing real motifs here. Most modern imitators: Eat your frickin' heart out, because these guys are just, like, fucking hilarious, man. Stand-out scene is when a motorcycle cop pulls over their weed car. The exhaust is infused with THC, so the cop becomes instantly high, and when he approaches the window he looks Chong nervously in the eye and stammers, "... What do you guys want?"
I want to point out that when I say this is a "seminal stoner movie" I'm not just being pretentious and using the word "seminal" to replace "first" like people do -- I mean it's actually seminal, as in "like semen," as in it created an archetype: We have two friends, who enjoy weed and go on a journey while interacting with a series of bit characters. There's a loose plot -- an end goal that the characters hurtle toward -- but most of the individual scenes don't seem immediately relevant, and if they do end up colliding in the climax, it will only be tangentially related.
Also, hahaha, that fucking cop, it cracks me up so much.
I think the way weed has changed over the years has also changed the way stoner movies are portrayed, right? See, Cheech and Chong keep screwing up -- the whole movie, in fact, they never really know what's going on -- but things work out for them anyway. When they outwit the border patrol, for example, it's purely by accident: Cheech accidentally throws his joint into a car full of nuns, and the ensuing smoke distracts the border agents as they drive away. Similarly, when that motorcycle cop pulls them over, they accidentally get him stoned.
My favorite part of this movie is that the Wikipedia page explains what Cheech's "MUF DVR" vanity plate means, and links to the page for cunnilingus.
Never change, Wikipedia.
I guess my point is, I had trouble paying attention to this movie the second time, but the parts I remember were pretty funny.
Sober Score: I only spaced out and checked Twitter three times!
Stoned Score: C'mon man, don't make me put a number on it.
WINNER: Stoned. By like a mile.
Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back
Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back is the story of two drug dealers who get mad that a movie is being made about them and take a trip across the country to stop it. It's basically Kevin Smith's love letter to everyone who saw all his View Askewniverse movies, as evidence by the fact that Jason Lee plays both Brodie Bruce (his character from Mallrats) and Banky Edwards (his character from Chasing Amy). Smith is just so happy that Clerks was a success, guys.
Like I said before, this movie follows the Up in Smoke model religiously, so much so that I almost wonder if I could watch them at the same time and see them sync up. The big difference is the nature of the characters: Cheech and Chong are these friendly, affable stoners that things happen to work out for because the cops chasing them are too high-strung and incompetent to do their jobs, and the universe is on their side. Jay and Silent Bob, on the other hand, are being actively exploited everywhere they go: Not only are characters based on them appearing in a movie that they didn't approve of, they become the fall guys in a jewelry heist perpetrated by the sexy character from Heroes. You know the one.
I don't know what this means, though.
OK, here's what it means: The stoner character is a reflection of the artist's laziest base impulse, right? So Cheech and Chong really, at the end of the day, wanted to just fuck around. But Kevin Smith, right, is a comic book nerd from Jersey who built his success out of raw stick-to-itiveness, and now he's worried about losing it all. Check out his interviews and talks and see how wary and critical he is of the Hollywood system. He's worried about being taken advantage of. He's worried about being exploited. That's a real fear in Hollywood, and though he's probably sublimated that fear pretty well at this point, it still exists in the darkest recesses of his heart of hearts. You can never get rid of those old fears.
Wow, this movie even ends with a performance by The Time, just like how Up in Smoke ends with a performance of "Earache My Eye," which we're going to watch right now.
Sober Score: I checked Twitter like 30 times.
Stoned Score: I still don't really like this movie.
WINNER: Stoned, I guess. Fucking whatever.
The Big Lebowski
Statistically speaking, The Big Lebowski is your favorite movie where you can't really remember the plot. Something about bowling, and a rug, and it's secretly about a fear of castration.
Now that we understand the stoner film structure, let's talk about the characters. The Dude (and any "stoner bro") is essentially a modern-day jester: They ignore basic society rules, living a life free of consequence and full of snarky humor. They are superheroes of circumstance and wit. Think about how unimpressed The Dude is with petty material wealth.
Think about how the universe rewards him: He doesn't work, but he gets to hang out bowling all day and smoking weed in his bathtub. He gets laid -- and even reproduces -- just because Julianne Moore wants to. That right there is the ultimate modern masculine fantasy: to have sex and actually make a child without having to face any of the consequences. The Dude lives with the authority, privilege, and comfort of masculinity, but none of the responsibilities.
The Dude is set apart from the "jesters" in the other story in that his goals are selfless. No, really: The only time we see him upset is when someone else's welfare is threatened (Bunny's toe, Walter screwing up Donny's service). Truly, The Dude is a heroic spiritual guide for the modern man.
All the characters in this movie are written to be like people you meet when you're high. Not how they actually are, obviously, but how they appear to you.
Just look at how impenetrable and confusing Julianne Moore is, or David Thewlis' weird, laughing background character, or just everything Philip Seymour Hoffman does. This is what people seem like when you're high. The movie is a simulation of having to deal with people while stoned.
Do you think Sam Elliot is as charming in real life as he is in this movie? Do you think he'd give me a hug if I asked nicely? I bet he gives good hug.
Sober Score: I didn't check Twitter at all!
Stoned Score: This is the greatest movie I've ever seen.
WINNER: Stoned! But it really doesn't matter; it's The Big Lebowski, man.