, 111 min, 2008
Director: David Gordon Green
Writers: Seth Rogen (screenplay) & Evan Goldberg (screenplay), Judd Apatow (story) and Seth Rogen (story) & Evan Goldberg (story)
Stars: Seth Rogen, James Franco, Gary Cole
David Gordon Green’s Pineapple Express is among the absolute funniest films of this or any year. In its sheer manic zeal, a zaniness beyond description, and with a full-on ridiculous action plot somehow made believable by exaggerated yet oddly realistic characters, it manages to be that ultra-rare thing: a pot comedy that’s smart and funny.
Now by smart I don’t mean high-brow. This is a Judd Apatow production, after all. However, in its depiction of well-meaning idiocy, the fragile but ultimately solid bonds between males of a certain age and social circle, and in its approach to the material (from a screenplay by Superbad co-writers Seth Rogen & Evan Goldberg), Green’s film rises above the norm of this particular sub-genre.
Seth Rogen stars as process server Dale Denton, a weed-smokin’ goofus whose girlfriend is an 18-year-old blonde high school student (“It’s consensual for me,” he says) and whose pot dealer Saul (James Franco) is, he finds, his only true friend. Saul buys his pot from Red, a mulleted (yet also jerry-curled?) redneck (another astonishing creation from Green alum and Foot Fist Way star Danny McBride), who folds like a cheap accordion whenever the going gets tough, but at the end of the day knows what is right and what is wrong and who is true friends are.
He works somehow for Ted (Gary Cole, in a truly disturbing performance), a big-time drug dealer with a corrupt cop (Rosie Perez) on his payroll. The bare bones of the plot sound silly and grounded in no sort of reality we’ve ever seen or heard of, correct? Well, yes. If I even tried to explain to you the hilarity with which the film arrives at a would-be dinner scene with Rogen’s teen girlfriend’s parents (Ed Begley, Jr. and Nora Dunn) or an all-but-inexplicable prologue shot in gorgeous black & white like a 50′s sci-fi film and revolving around Area 51, you might call me crazy.
The casting is pretty spot on. Rogen strikes notes that will ring a bell for those who remember him in everything fromThe 40 Year Old Virgin (2005) and Knocked Up (2007) to Superbad (also 2007), and the supporting work is terrific, from McBride and Cole, Perez and Begley, Jr. to Kevin Corrigan and the invaluable Craig Robinson (of TV’s The Office) as a couple of bumbling hired thugs.
The real revelation, however, is Franco, almost unrecognizable here, who gives a performance of such acute detail and specific observation that it almost – in its way – rivals Heath Ledger’s The Joker in The Dark Knight(!). The way his eye-lids are 3/4 closed throughout (I truly don’t believe they were ever open in the entire 2 hour running time!), the way he repeats one and two word phrases shortly after they’re said (always just barely above a whisper, and always to himself), and the way he seems to have genuine affection and care for his “Bubbie” (a grandmother he has been working to get into a better senior living center via his drug business).
This could all be stupid and tedious in the wrong hands. However, the key decision on Apatow’s part was to hand over the directing reins to David Gordon Green. The 33-year-old North Carolina wunderkind known for his take on the “Southern Gothic” sub-genre made such modern indie gems as George Washington (2000), All the Real Girls (2003),Undertow (2004), and Snow Angels (2007), which was released earlier this year. In a way, he tops himself here. Remember the approach to this material I mentioned earlier? Green gives it his all, and manages to slip convincingly into the good-size budget Hollywood stoner/action comedy sub-genre with ease, never losing his tendencies for more artful indulgences. Working with long-time cinematographer Tim Orr, Green could be accused of actually doingmore than was required – or wanted.
I haven’t made my case, you’re thinking. This is just a dumb pot comedy. How could anyone possibly be saying what I am about the performances, the “artful” direction of David Gordon Green, the cinematography, etc.? Well… it’s true. Compare this with an earlier stoner comedy like Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay (2008), which is stupid, offensive on every possible level, unfunny, and nowhere near the level of craft and care brought to this film. Now look again at Pineapple Express, and you find you’re positively hugging yourself, grateful to filmmakers who cared and enjoyed their art enough to put time and effort into this story, this way.
Comedy is tricky business. Unless you can guess what I’m suggesting about Franco, about the craftsmanship, about the sense of humor, you can never possibly understand how good this movie really is. The bottom line is that I haven’t laughed this hard in a theater in ages. Judge for yourself.
Note: What is it about Apatow? When he’s not directing his own films, he’s producing the work of other directors, often from the indie world. Superbad was directed by Greg Mottola, who had only previously made the somewhat forgettable comedy The Daytrippers (1996) with Hope Davis and some episodes of the now classic sitcom Arrested Development (2003-2006). Now he’s got the young heir apparent to independent cinema, David Gordon Green. What’s next? A teen sex romp from Darren Aronofsky? The unrated version runs 117 minutes on DVD.