By WILL McKINLEY
Calling a movie “the best stoner comedy of all time” might be considered faint praise. After all, other recent entrants in this category have been about as funny as a $50 bag of Washington Square Park oregano. But with “Smiley Face,” a slapstick farce starring a sleepy-eyed Anna Faris, Director Greg Araki has single-handedly redeemed a genre that has heretofore considered repeated utterance of the word “dude” to be Algonquin Roundtable-worthy wit.
It’s an odd creative choice for a director who claims he’s not a pothead. It’s also a 180-degree turn for the Japanese-American indie veteran, whose last film, “Mysterious Skin,” a darkly poetic portrait of abuse survivors, was a popular pick for 2004 Top Ten lists. But Araki has been confounding audiences and critics for more than 20 years. So why stop now?
I spoke with Araki on the telephone from his office in Los Angeles coincidentally, on the occasion of his 48th birthday.
Do you have any exciting plans for your birthday, other than speaking with The Villager?
This is the high point.
Thanks. So, do you have to be a pothead to enjoy “Smiley Face?”
No. I’m not a huge stoner myself, but I have a lot of friends that are. I also have friends that have never smoked pot in their lives and they love the movie.
By the way, I’ve never heard so much laughter at a press screening.
That’s great. I’m so excited about the New York theatrical run. The film is definitely going to have a cult following on DVD, like a lot of my movies. But the communal experience of seeing it in a theater makes it a lot more fun. The Sundance screening was at midnight on a Friday and it was one of the craziest, funnest things I’ve ever been to.
It is sort of the prototypical midnight movie, isn’t it?
Definitely. I told Anna Faris when she was doing it, “You’re going to be 80 years old, walking down the street, and some guy is going to come up to you like, ‘You were in that movie!’ We got so lucky with Anna. I don’t know who else could have done this role besides her.
The movie is playing at the IFC Center, which used to be The Waverly the theater where midnight movies began 30 years ago with “The Rocky Horror Picture Show.”
That’s interesting because it was also playing at the Nuart here (in L.A.). The Nuart is still playing “Rocky Horror” at midnight. “Smiley Face” always seems to end up where there’s “Rocky Horror” toast on the floor.
“Smiley Face” is certainly a departure from your last film. Was that a conscious choice?
I love “Mysterious Skin” and I’m so proud of it. But after doing something so dark and so heavy and then promoting it for nine months, I knew that I wanted to do something completely different for my next film. I had read “Smiley Face” a few years ago and I remember it being the funniest script I had ever read.
It’s really a stoner comedy for smart people.
That’s a good way to put it. That’s what attracted me to the script (by writer Dylan Haggerty). It was such a weird, original idea. It continually kept me guessing, which is my main criticism of most scripts and most movies. I know from page 3 how the script is going to end.
The film is only getting a limited theatrical release in L.A. and New York. Why?
It was originally supposed to come out on 4/20, which was an inside joke for the potheads. But that didn’t work out. There have been some behind the scenes problems with the company (First Look Studios) and stuff like that. It’s been delayed and delayed and delayed and it’s been so frustrating for me. That’s why I’m so glad that it’s finally coming out.
There is no mention of pot on the movie’s website, or in the promotional materials for the upcoming DVD release. Why?
I think that there is some weird MPAA rule that you can’t use the word “pot” or “stoned.” It’s part of the joys of the behind-the-scenes marketing stuff.
How do you not lose it over nonsense like that?
It’s just an unfortunate part of the process. There’s so much about filmmaking that is fun and creative and great and then there’s things that are not so great the political stuff, or the B.S. about the marketing. But, at the end of the day, I’m really grateful that I get to make movies. I don’t have a lot to complain about.