Tito (2020)

It’s difficult to describe Tito without overselling what it can deliver.  Seeking a middle ground between sensory-assaultive arthouse horror and broad stoner comedy, it’s often more of a genre experiment than a proper narrative film.  I almost want to describe it as the unlikely overlap between Josephine Decker and Cheech & Chong but, again, that’s probably overselling it.  If a no-budget genre mash-up that reeks of bong water & brimstone is the kind of thing you’d usually seek out (think Buzzard, Woodshock, Mangoshake, Ladyworld, etc.), then you’re just as much of a doomed soul as I am and will find plenty seeds & stems to catch buzz off of here.  However, anyone expecting the typical payoffs of either a typical arthouse horror or stoner buddy comedy will have their patience tested early & often.  Tito is a lot more interested in mood & process than it is in delivering the goods.

First-time director Grace Glowicki casts herself as an impossibly timid geek (the titular Tito) who’s drawn out of his cowardly seclusion by an idiot stoner who barges into his life uninvited (credited only as The Friendly Neighbor).  Meanwhile, vaguely menacing demons attempt to invade the frame but never arrive, sending Tito into constant panic attacks over a danger that no one else perceives.  That central performance is consistently entertaining, grotesque, and frustrating throughout, like babysitting Crispin Glover while he suffers a traumatically bad acid trip.  The genderfuckery of the casting does little to inform the text; Glowicki merely allows herself the space to improv the character quirks of a pathetic worm of a man.  It’s nearly the most off-putting performance I’ve seen all year, bested only by the grotesque child-creature in Vivarium.  The stoner neighbor is no more endearing, stomping through Tito’s hermetic home space as an overgrown, hedonistic toddler.  Their relationship is the sour, curdled leftovers of a typical stoner-buddy comedy dynamic: two mismatched losers who only become more obnoxious & mutually destructive the more joints they torch.  The demons don’t do much to break up that nauseating dynamic.  They don’t do much of anything at all.  They’re just around, unseen & in-wait.

If I’m being hard on the character traits of Tito in particular, it’s because I see too much of my own worst tendencies in his grotesque cowardice.  Watching the hunched over, perpetually petrified loser jump at every sudden noise and flinch at every microscopic sign of aggression from other men is too familiar to this socially anxious Indoor Kid, although absurdly exaggerated.  By the time Tito was cowering behind the one person he knows at a crowded bar, afraid to make eye contact with any of the strangers (or potential demons) that surrounds him, I found myself laughing just as much at my own social awkwardness as the off-putting quirks that are particular to the performance onscreen.  If Glowicki taps into anything solidly recognizable here, it’s the way that exaggerated social anxiety is reflected in both her performance and in the sensory overload of her editing-room tinkering.  Every one of Tito’s paranoid-stoner mood swings is married to a violent swerve in the soundtrack, so that the audience is equally tormented & unnerved even though nothing especially horrific is happening to him (besides being pressured to hang out with the world’s most annoying neighbor).  The music is Tito’s mood ring, distinguishing his content, idle cowering from his terrified, pants-shitting cowering, which would look pretty similar without that aural assist.

Beyond the film’s grotesque reflection of my own social awkwardness & cowardly response to macho aggression, I most appreciated Tito for its weird-for-weird’s sake pranks on the audience.  Watching Glowkicki puke up a flood of breakfast cereal, fall under the hypnosis of CGI porn simulators, and furiously blow a bright red whistle while her character’s stoner-bro foil shouts punishingly repetitive variations of “Dude!”, “Man!”, and “Brother!” was more than enough to justify the 70min time investment, even if just barely.  I can’t promise that most people will walk away from the experience feeling that same satisfied curiosity (or even promise that most people will make it to the end credits).  Again, I really am trying my best to not oversell it.

-Brandon Ledet

The Beach Bum (2019)

I best appreciate Harmony Korine when he reins in his aimless, nonsensical character studies with the semblance of a guiding structure. Deliberately off-putting, nihilistically empty provocations like Trash Humpers & Mister Lonely are immediately fascinating for their surface eccentricities but exhausting at full-length. By contrast, the reason Gummo & Spring Breakers stand out as clear highlights in the director’s scummy arthouse catalog is that they afford the audience a recognizable genre framework with built-in dramatic payoffs, whether post-Apocalyptic sci-fi or a neon-lit heist thriller, without sacrificing the eccentricities that distinguish Korine as a phlegmy creative voice. The Beach Bum joins those ranks of Korine’s best-behaved works by meeting the audience hallway with a recognizable tone & structure while its minute to minute rhythms still recall the off-putting, amoral deviance of provocations like Trash Humpers. The guiding structure in this sunshiny Floridian nightmare is the most unlikely genre the director has barnacled his schtick to yet: the 1990s major studio comedy. The Beach Bum is essentially Harmony Korine’s Billy Madison. I mean that as a compliment.

Matthew McConaughey stars as the titular preposterous beach bum, a Florida-famous stoner-poet named Moondog. As you might expect from a Korine protagonist, Moondog is The Worst. “The most prolific poet in Key West, Florida,” he lives in a haze of cheap beer, pot smoke, and dehydrating sunshine, relying on his local fame to pave over his schoolyard bully brutality. He ruins every life he touches, but everyone around him continually excuses his behavior with shrugged-off phrases like “That’s just Moondog,” and “He’s from another dimension.” Meanwhile, Moondog laughs maniacally at his own villainy, barking “I write poetry, you little bitch” at anyone who doesn’t immediately respect his literary pedigree. He announces in a poem, “One day I will swallow up the world and when I do I hope you all suffer violently” to his adoring audience, briefly dropping his worry-free beach-frat exterior to reveal his true nature: a hedonist monster who’s wiling to destroy lives if it means he can get laid, get high, and have a laugh. The film builds itself around exploring the intricacies & eccentricities of a character who is too stoned & too spiritually empty to be genuinely interesting on his own merits. It’s pure Korine in that way, even if its surface details resemble a much more conventional comedy.

As off-putting & nihilistically empty as The Beach Bum is as a character study, the marketing company that cut its misleading trailer had plenty to work with in making it look like a 90s stoner comedy. A plot contrivance that pressures Moondog to finish his next poetry collection in order to inherit a fortune that was willed to him with that stipulation feels like it was ripped directly from an unpublished Adam Sandler screenplay. To reinforce that association, Jonah Hill plays Moondog’s literary agent as a full-on impersonation of The Waterboy’s Bobby Boucher. Moondog’s own persona seems to have derived from a fantasy where Billy Madison grew up to be an even grosser, less effective version of The Dude from The Big Lebowski, which is the kind of fan-fiction you write as a teenage idiot only to rediscover it in horror as a sober adult. All the plot really amounts to, though, is an excuse to send Moondog on a go-nowhere, circular road trip with his trusty typewriter slung over his shoulder in a trash bag. Like all road-trip comedies, The Beach Bum is mostly a series of episodic run-ins with over-the-top caricatures: Snoop Dogg & Jimmy Buffett essentially playing themselves in extended cameos; Martin Lawrence as a dolphin-obsessed sea captain (who would almost certainly have been played by Chris Farley in a genuine comedy of this ilk); Zac Efron as a JNCOs-wearing Christian-rocker who apparently time traveled directly from a late-90s Creed concert. They’re all recognizable archetypes from mainstream 90s comedies but distorted into horrific grotesqueries. And none are half as nightmarish as Moondog himself.

The Beach Bum bills itself as “The new Comedy from Harmony Korine,” but I was the only person at my first-weekend 4:20 screening howling in laughter or gasping in horror. A certain familiarity with the director’s schtick is likely required at the door to get on this film’s wavelength. It wears the clothes of a laugh-a-minute yuck ‘em up from the Happy Madison brand, but beneath those vestments it’s the same aimless, puke-stained nightmare Korine has always delivered. As a hot-and-cold admirer of his work, I found plenty to be impressed by here – particularly in the way he mimics Moondog’s semi-conscious, lifelong-blackout engagement with the world in an editing style that works in half-remembered, repetitious circles. Moondog is a destructive menace with nothing novel or insightful to say about the world but somehow continually gets away with passing off his villainy as gonzo poetry. Living inside his burnout, bottom-feeder mind for 95 minutes is a frustrating, fruitless experience, but also fascinating as a character-specific nightmare. It’s less a satirical attack on the juvenile manbabies of mainstream comedies past than it is an acknowledgment of a kindred spirit between them and Korine’s own catalog of useless, preposterous lunatics. Whatever critiques or subversions of the mainstream comedy you may pick up along the way are just a result of the director doing his usual thing to an unusual level of success.

-Brandon Ledet.

Never Goin’ Back (2018)

Although you’re very unlikely to find one with actual queer content, there’s always at least a hint of homosexual desire simmering in the background of most dude-bro buddy comedies. Pairings like Bill & Ted, Harold & Kumar, and the Dude & Dude duo from Dude, Where’s My Car? are always so hopelessly made for each other that their mutual boy-crushes can never be fully covered up by a “no-homo” balking at the indication. The A24-distributed stoner comedy Never Goin’ Back’s greatest achievement is in making that same-sex desire buddy comedy subtext an explicit part of the text, then shrugging it off like it’s no big deal (because it isn’t). The mutual sexual attraction between stoner-buddy protagonists that is usually covered up with frantic jabs of gay panic humor is presented so casually in Never Goin’ Back that is never confirmed whether the duo in question are a romantic couple or just good buds who sometimes kiss for fun. It’s a fresh take on material that could very easily feel stale, but it’s also kind of a shame that the way we had to get there was by making both protagonists female.

Two young high school dropouts turned waitresses hatch a seemingly low-stakes plan to spend their rent money on a beach trip, then earn the money back by working ten straight days of double-shifts. With the gorgeous utopia of Galveston, TX just one week away, they hatch a series of ill-advised schemes to keep their heads above water—schemes that land them jobless, arrested, impossibly stoned, and more broke than ever. It’s kind of an anti-heist picture in that way, with the clockwork efficiency of a well-executed plan replaced by the whims of two wildly irresponsible young women attempting to wing it on the fly and failing miserably at every turn. The central beach trip is a kind of MacGuffin, of course, with flashbacks to the girls’ past hijinks frequently interrupting the flow of the narrative for the sake of a gag—like a TV show highlight reel. Being desperate & stoned does have its inherent, escalating conflicts, though, especially since the girls are blunderously locked into a series of get-rich-quick schemes that all immediately implode.

The desperate need for money that drives Never Goin’ Back’s story beats makes for great comedic tension, but the film’s greatest strength is in contrasting raunchy shock humor with the tender earnestness of a friendship so close it’s indistinguishable from romance. The two girls at the center (Maia Mitchell & Camila Morrone) share drugs & kisses indiscriminately, draw dicks on each other’s sleeping faces as if life were a nonstop slumber party, and refer to each other as “Dude” as if it were the sweetest pet name imaginable. The small-town ghouls that get in the way of their beach trip (including SNL’s Kyle Mooney as an awkward-pervert roommate) all feel like stock characters we’ve seen countless times before in dude-bro comedies, but the total infatuation & blasé sexual ambiguity shared between the leads plays as one-of-a-kind. I’d love to see this same dynamic spread into the boy-boy relationship dynamics of the typical stoner buddy comedy, but what’s on screen here for now is so endearingly sweet (especially in contrast to the crass world that engulfs it) that I have to respect the film tremendously for the way it’s already pushing the thematic boundaries of its genre.

-Brandon Ledet

Driving While Black (2015)



“As a black man, I have to deal with an extra layer of bullshit on top of regular life.”

The same year the aggressively crass (and surprisingly touching) Tangerine took America on a whirlwind tour through the seedy side of Los Angeles populated by trans sex workers & drug-addled pimps, Driving While Black offers a different perspective of the city rarely seen in cinema: that of the young, black stoner. With its tape warp hiphop/Stones Throw Records-leaning soundtrack (complete with a Charizma & Peanut Butter Wolf ringtone) & graffiti-flavor title cards, Driving While Black poses itself on the surface as a laid-back stoner comedy, but packs a much heftier political punch than what you’d typically expect from that genre. Detailing the public harassment & personal violation of being constantly persecuted by the police on the receiving end of racial profiling, Driving While Black walks an impressive tightrope of feeling like an important movie, but never losing track of being consistently funny. Unlike the way Dear White People softens its political provocation by focusing on the emotional stress of its college student protagonists, Driving While Black never strays from its musings about police brutality & abuse of power, but still somehow mixes that message with goofball gags like the image of its protagonist getting so high that he glides down the street like Dracula. It’s an impressive & often powerful balance in comedic tone.

Here’s the plot of Driving While Black in an over-simplified nutshell: Dimitri, an aspiring artist/overgrown pizza deliver boy, is trying to make it to a job interview at the behest of his girlfriend & mother to better himself, but on his way he is constantly derailed by a historically race-obsessed police force, the LAPD. There’s a depressing sense of routine & ritual in his run-ins with the law, which prompts him to mutter things like “Here we go again with the bullshit” whenever he’s pulled over. With direct references to milestones like the Rodney King riots & our current era of online activism in reaction to police murders of unarmed black youth, the film has a keen sense of history & knowing, hands-on experience with police abuse of power in L.A.’s black community. Establishing that it’s a cradle-to-grave problem, cops are even shown harassing children, calling them “little assholes” & “cum socks” (and then humorously over-explaining the meaning of that latter insult), and accusing them of crimes they obviously didn’t commit. In some encounters, cops lecture the protagonist on how to not look suspicious (because dressing or acting a certain way is likely to get you pulled over). In others, they overstep their authority with statements like “You’re not under arrest, but I am going to handcuff you for your safety and for mine”. There are some surreal scenes, like depictions of Ku Klux Kops (who wear a sort of police uniform, hooded robe hybrid) with glowing eyes & demonic voices, as well as just-as-surreal encounters where cops are surprisingly helpful. There are also some more believable moments where they’re portrayed as real people, however nerdy or unnecessarily aggressive. What really stands out, though, is the fact that Dimitri has to deal with police on (at least) a daily basis, completely against his will, a point hammered home by the fact that the LAPD uses his pizza place as a social meeting ground.

Speaking of Dimitri, actor Dominique Purdy should be given a lot of credit for making sure that the movie never tips too far into a didactic, political downer. He’s just a generally affable, funny guy, something that the movie is smart to exploit. Watching him go about his day, interacting with L.A. weirdos, drug dealers, street performers, and Homes to the Stars tour groups, are some of the film’s most enjoyable moments, which invites the audience to share in his frustration when his day is sidelined by police-related complications. The film is also smart to directly reference Dave Chappelle multiple times, as the comparison to his likeness & stoner-minded sense of political humor is likely to come up time & time again anyway. Since Purdy collaborated with director Paul Sapiano as a writing partner on the film’s script, he has a personal connection with the material that more or less allows him to be his effortlessly funny/charming self. It’s tempting to infer that Driving While Black is a glimpse of his Purdy’s personal Los Angeles, an affable stoner’s guide through the relentless annoyance & potential danger of a racist institution that complicates & threatens his otherwise pleasant, laid-back lifestyle. And because it’s a problem with no clear answer, the film ends that tour on a chillingly ambiguous note, a brave choice in conclusion for a screwball stoner comedy, however political. It’s a rare treat that a movie can be this consistently funny & still leave you with such a provocative feeling once the credits roll. I’m excited to see the rest of the world’s reaction as Driving While Black‘s distribution starts to gain traction. There’s surely to be a good bit of great post-screening lobby talk in the coming year as more people get to experience this gem.

-Brandon Ledet

Grandma’s Boy (2006)



(Unrated edition, viewed 9/8/2015)

Starts slow, but delivers consistent lowbrow humor. Predictable, but a solid entry for its genre.

Allen Covert puts in a dopey but lovable performance as Alex, a middle aged video game tester who moves in with his titular Grandma after losing his apartment. He finds himself learning to navigate life with his new elderly roommates (wonderfully fun performances by Doris Roberts, Shirley Jones, and Shirley Knight), the challenges of working with a company of gamers, and his affection for the new project manager, played by Linda Cardellini. Throw in a few gross-out gags, a hefty dose of stoner humor and a cameo by Rob Schneider, and you’ve got the regular Adam Sandler formula.

Grandma’s Boy works pretty well. Interestingly enough, it manages to pull off a convincing bait-and-switch with the main character, Alex. Alex begins the film as a schlubby loser, difficult to like and not easy to root for. By the end of the movie, he’s a goofy, kind protagonist who works hard to keep his Grandma happy, develop his own video game, and win the girl. There isn’t a single other twist in the entire movie, and that’s ok.

I recommend this movie to viewers looking for a stoner flick that’s engaging, if lowbrow, without being thought-provoking. Not a bad pizza night or sick day movie.

-Erin Kinchen