Thursday, June 04, 2009

KBT Presents: Smiley Face

ne of the films from 2007, a particular strong year in film, that sort of slipped under the radar was the asinine yet thoroughly endearing Smiley Face. A meandering script with a barely finished quality becomes a work of art due to the acting talent on Anna Faris. While I can take or leave the Scary Movie parodies, her small role as a ditzy starlet (rumored to be a parody of Cameron Diaz) in Lost in Translation made a big impression, as did her tiny part as a leggy blonde uber-bitch, in Lucky McKee’s May.

In Smiley Face she is not shuffled to a supporting role but rather gets to anchor the entire film, as Jane F., a dimunitive and frumpy stoner with eyes far-off and ponderously crinkled brow. The movie is unsympathetic, framed in such a way for the audience to laugh at her, not with her. Jane is high for the duration of the movie, about a day in 'real time.'  Starting off a full on pot bender at 9:00am, (bong, Joints, cupcakes) she is barely on earth.  This is shown wonderfully by her voice-over narration, her flash-backs and even her waking dream sequences.  The 'plot' of the film is her attempting to complete her 'to do list' of mundane objectives:  Pay her bills, go to an audition, etc. which become staggering quests (with plenty of tangential meanderings) due to her reduced capacity to, well, much of anything. Director Gregg Araki exploits her state of mind with all sorts of the structural goofiness and the film starts to blend together in a series of hazy short-circuits (a particular strength of the movie that plays with the stoner mind-set, and why Smiley Face has been hailed as one of the better flicks to offer subjective-experience of being baked).

The epitome of which is this scene while Jane is waiting for the wife of an ex-professor to hand her the original manuscript of Marx and Engels’ The Communist Manifesto (don’t asked it is easier to watch the movie to find out how it gets there). While waiting on the couch, she sees a photo of a cob of corn and manages to make some interesting cognitive connections to how best to express her love of lasagna. This is done in pantomime with the help of voice over, and you can just see the bubbly enthusiasm on Faris’ face. The fact that she is like this for the entire film (with the occasional paranoid outburst) is a feat all in itself. The performance is pretty fearless. You love her as you laugh at her and you want to hug her even though you’d probably react like many of the other characters if you met Jane F. in real life - that is with annoyance or outright disdain. Despite its low budget, happy-shiny aesthetic, it flirts with going to pretty dark places (many of Gregg Araki’s other films which explicitly go there, the flirting with it here is more satisfying). Oddball and unexpected acting, particularly a woman in this type of role, endear me to watching movies and continually seeking out gems like this one.