SMILEY FACE: The Anna Faris Problem

Smiley Face (2007) – Directed by Gregg Araki – Starring Anna Faris, Danny Masterson, Adam Brody, John Krasinski, Jayma Mays, Marion Ross, Jane Lynch, John Cho, Danny Trejo, and Roscoe Lee Browne.

So if you’re a regular reader of the Anxiety you might be wondering why I’m reviewing a stoner comedy from 2007 in the middle of Catching Up with 2011 Month. The answer is not that I have run out of 2011 movies to watch. And while, yes, it is true that I’m caught between Netflix days (Frontier in Space and Super 8 have gone back, Fright Night and Attack the Block have yet to arrive), this review stems from a review of SMILEY FACE written by pal Derrick Ferguson over at The Ferguson Theater, a site you should be reading. (Derrick is also a writer of books that you should be reading.) This led to a comment by me over on Facebook that Anna Faris confounds me – sometimes I adore her and sometimes I can’t stand her.

And that’s what’s know as the Anna Faris Problem in my overworked head. Usually, with actors, while you may occasionally like or dislike their movie, you can say that you generally like or dislike them. It’s only recently that Adam Sandler has gone from an actor I like to one I don’t, despite the fact that he’s been in lots of movies I couldn’t stand. Despite the fact that Jay Baruchel has the single most annoying voice in the history of the world, I loved How to Train Your Dragon, which has him talking in nearly every scene.

But Anna Faris totally and completely confounds me. I want to like her, because she has the great vibe to her, but sometimes … sometimes just having her on my TV screen is enough to make me want to do the dishes. It can even happen with the same role – as much as I love her in Scary Movie and Scary Movie 2, I found her incredibly tedious in 3 and 4. I was incredibly psyched for Waiting, but found her and the movie wanting. I watched literally 3 minutes of Take Me Home Tonight before shutting it off, and she was nearly as annoying as Topher Grace during that time, which is quite the accomplishment. I had hoped she’d be entertaining enough to keep me interested, but it wasn’t to be. (And yes, feel free to hate on me for watching a movie for three minutes, declaring it sucks, and deciding to give American Pickers a chance, instead. Which was also kinda annoying.)

When Derrick reviewed SMILEY FACE and I let all of this out, he offered a friendly challenge – if I watched it and hated it, he’d watch a movie of my choosing to watch and review over at The Ferguson Theater. Since Netflix Streaming had SMILEY FACE available, it didn’t take too long to get to it.

The good news is that Derrick won’t have to review a movie of my choosing because I don’t hate SMILEY FACE. I didn’t love it, either, but there is one incontrovertible thing I did absolutely love about the movie …

Yup. Anna Faris.

Faris is so incredibly funny in SMILEY that it’s the performance I’ve always wanted to see her in. It’s the kind of performance that reminds you how awesome she can be when she’s on, even when the material is rather weak.

She plays Jane F, a stoner who spends the day, well, really, really stoned. The film opens with her stuck on a ferris wheel, talking to the disembodied voice of the great Roscoe Lee Browne, and then we spend much of the rest of the movie catching up to this moment. The film itself isn’t very good – she has a series of misadventures with a bunch of different guys as she tries to reach the Venice Pot Fesitval to pay back her dealer (an awful Adam Brody). Everything is set in motion when she eats her roommate Steve’s cupcakes (Danny Masterson) even though there was a note saying not to eat them. Too late, she realizes they’re pot cupcakes, so comes up with a list of the day’s activities: she needs to make Steve some new cupcakes, go to her acting audition, and pay off her dealer.

All of this means we basically spend 90 minutes watching a stoner make a series of bad decisions. Faris is really hilarious and totally committed to the role, but the rest of the film around her just doesn’t work all that much for me. When she’s waxing philosophical on the munchies, I’m engaged. When she’s pounding Doritos and sucking down orange juice from the mother (Marion Ross) of one of her ex-professors who thinks she’s someone else, I’m bored.

There’s a ton of guest stars here. Some (like John Cho and Roscoe Lee Browne) are good. Some (like Jane Lynch and Brian Posehn) are wasted.

Some of the scenes are really funny. Some aren’t. Luckily, nothing lasts too long as director Gregg Araki keeps things moving along at a pretty good clip. Strangely, I don’t really like any other character in the movie, or think they add much of anything. The point of everyone else is basically to play straight man to Jane’s stoner high jinks, and the result is a movie that’s funnier when Jane is by herself rather than when she’s interacting with other people.

I generally don’t like stoner comedies and SMILEY FACE isn’t going to change my mind on the genre, but Faris’ performance makes this a film worth watching. When we get a montage of how Brevin (John Krasinski) falls in love with her, and we see her basically eating chips or passed out on the couch covered in chips, I can totally see why he fell in love with her. Jane is one of those girls you meet every so often who’s a total wreck and yet also totally captivating. She’s the kind of girl all of your girlfriends will tell you doesn’t deserve you, and you’ll nod and agree when they say it, but it won’t matter. Once a girl like that hooks you, you’re stuck.