USA (87 mi) 2012 d: Shaka King
A black stoner comedy that attempts to get into the mindset of stoner culture, especially as exhibited by an attractive young black couple in love, Lyle (Amari Cheatom) and Nina (Trae Harris), who spend their waking hours smoking large doses of ganja weed, often philosophizing in each other’s arms, dreaming of one day going to the Galapagos, where they display a warm affection with each other. Lyle literally smokes it all day long as well, as it steadies his nerves, going into an anxiety ridden crisis whenever he’s without it. As a result, he continually hides and hoards a secret stash that he keeps in reserve. Accidentally discovered by Nina at some point, he’s forced to admit this is “their” secret reserve which they can share. At least initially, however, their lives together are the picture of bliss, as they appear well suited for each other and couldn’t be happier.
While living in an unpretentious Bedford-Stuyvesant apartment, both have jobs, but they spend whatever they earn to buy more drugs, keeping them on the societal fringe, as this couple lives paycheck to paycheck. Lyle has a horrific job repossessing rented furniture, working with a constantly criticizing white partner Jackie (Tone Tank), where the two of them have to figure out ways to out-connive people from their possessions, often resorting to underhanded and sleazy methods that often contrast absurd situational humor with the dire economic circumstances in the lives they’re dealing with. Much of it plays out like street theater, resorting to various disguises to outsmart their customers. When they realize at one point they made a mistake, that they took the wrong guy’s furniture, Jackie is cool with it and refuses to return it, claiming it’s just a job, and they got what they came for, while Lyle feels a moral obligation to do things right, but instead gets sucked into the moral void of street survival.
Nina works as a tour guide at the Brooklyn Children’s Museum, where she’s continually upbeat, providing a smiling face to the arriving kids, where she exhibits an inviting mood of playfulness. She catches the eye of Chico (Colman Domingo), the dapperly dressed black museum curator who offers to share his stash of Mongolian hash, but insists it needs to be taken with weed, ingratiatingly inviting himself to her apartment where they blissfully smoke the last of what’s left in the baggie, so there’s nothing left when Lyle returns home from work. Frantic after a particularly dreadful day, made even worse by the loss of his remaining stash, with his girl laughing her head off with some strangely condescending, overly literate guy in a suit, his frazzled nerves can’t take it. Forcing Chico out the door in a mindless rage, his mind is focused only upon scoring more drugs. Without it, their lives spill out of control, both in different directions, in a nightmarish blur of things only getting worse. Jackie convinces Lyle to come to a drinking party where he’s the only black guy, taking some other powerhouse drug that leaves him waking up under a bench on the subway train, unable to recall how he got there.
Laughter grows tragic, however, as before the day is done, both Lyle and Nina will have made misfortunate choices that land each of them in jail, and while Lyle imagines a hilarious blaxploitation fantasy, Nina’s parents bail her out and bring her back home, protecting her with a kind of tough love grounding. Lyle, of course, is at a loss, but Nina’s parents get a restraining order to keep him away from their daughter, sending mixed messages about moral consequences. In fact, the film begins as an intriguing character study, exploring a segment of society rarely seen in the movies, where the characters are humorously and imaginatively drawn, arousing interest in this lower fringe netherworld. But when the director decides there must be a consequence for taking drugs, all the naturalness of the picture suddenly becomes heavy handed, ultimately altering the enjoyment and effectiveness of the picture, becoming the imposed adult moral voice. In the end, through the smoke and mirrors, it’s as if we needed to be taught a lesson, where the preachiness aspect literally derails the picture, taking all the life and joy out of it. This is a gentle comedy with likeable people and unique insights, but in the end drowns in stereotypes.