April 20, 2018
/Answers: Our Favorite Stoners in the Movies
Every week in /Answers, we answer a new pop culture-related question. In this edition, tying in with the date on the calendar, we’re asking “Who is your favorite movie stoner?”
Ben Pearson: Kumar in Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle
There’s something about Kumar’s single-minded devotion to overcoming all odds and digging into some tasty burgers that really rings true in 2004’s Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle. Kal Penn’s character seems like a typical burnout at first, completely botching a med school interview on purpose to screw with his parents’ high expectations. But over the course of the duo’s crazy night, Kumar realizes in an organic way that he truly does want to become a doctor. He just needed to make the decision for himself instead of having it hanging over his head as a looming expectation.
The dude’s also a total party animal, and though he may occasionally take things a bit too far, he has a heart of gold and cares deeply about his friend Harold, constantly encouraging him to be the best version of himself. The two of them have one of the great stoner comedy relationships, and though it’s an old gag that’s been done to death, I still think the whole “belting out a cheesy song because you secretly like it” bit is done to perfection in this movie with Wilson Phillips’ “Hold On.”
Hoai-Tran Bui Marty in The Cabin in the Woods
Like each character in Drew Goddard’s sharp takedown of the horror genre, The Cabin in the Woods, Marty (Fran Kranz) starts out as a stereotype. He is the stoner of the group of beautiful college students out on a harmless weekend cabin trip, destined to be one of the first victims of the merciless horror movie slaughter. It was fated. Or at least, it was decided by the group of scientists manipulating events from behind the curtain in a sick real-world ritual. But poor, dumb, stoned out of his mind Marty ends up being the hero instead.
It’s a fun twist that jibes with the subversive tone of the movie — turning the stoner into the hero. Of course, this is a horror film so we have to have our intrepid Final Girl (Kristen Connolly) at the center of it all. But Marty makes an 11th hour return to save her in an entrance that can only be reserved for heroes (he’s holding a bloody bat and looking fit — fun fact, Marty didn’t dive into the lake at the beginning of the film because Kranz was considered too jacked to be a stoner-type). And throughout the film, Marty acts as the audience surrogate, questioning the group when they want to split up and frequently appearing to be the only one with sound mind. It turns out being a stoner was his saving grace, the marijuana inoculating him from the gases that the scientists injected into the environment.
But Kranz’s dynamic performance shouldn’t be overlooked. I may be biased because I’d just seen Kranz in the Joss Whedon sci-fi series Dollhouse as Topher, a complex and uncomfortably amoral character who somehow ends up becoming the most sympathetic in the series. It definitely made me anticipate Kranz’s performance the most in Cabin in the Woods, and I wasn’t disappointed — he turned a ridiculously flat character into one worthy of empathy. That’s why Marty will go down in stoner history — because he bucked all expectation, and more.
Ethan Anderton: Danny McBride in This Is The End
Danny McBride plays a bastardized version of himself in this star-studded, insane comedy about the end of the world by way of the rapture. And what I love about this stoner version of Danny McBride is what a total, unabashed dickhead he is. When the shit hits the fan, he has no problem turning on everyone, drinking as much water as he wants, trying to kill James Franco with his own Flyboys pistol, and then, wait for it, becoming the leader of a gang of cannibals with Channing Tatum as his gimp. Danny McBride is actually one of the nicest people you’ll meet in the comedy scene, and to see him embracing such a different version of himself, one that some fans probably have believed to be true in some form, is downright hilarious.
Chris Evangelista: “Doc” Sportello in Inherent Vice
Big Lebowski comparisons ran rampant when Paul Thomas Anderson’s Inherent Vice moseyed on into theaters in 2014, but Vice’s stoner private eye Larry “Doc” Sportello (Joaquin Phoenix) is far removed from Lebowski’s Dude. While the Dude seems to continually stumble into mysteries by accident, Doc strolls through them, muddled, confused, but also searching. He’s on the hunt for something, he just may not know what it is. And when he’s not hunting, he’s smoking, encircled by a perpetual cloud.
Phoenix is an absolute hoot in the role, never downplaying Doc’s pot usage, but never overplaying it either. Phoenix isn’t mugging for the camera here, nor is he playing a comical stoner. He’s simply going with the flow. The best moment in the film, however, revolves around an absence of marijuana. During a dry season, with no dope in sight, Doc and his girlfriend Shasta Faye (Katherine Waterston) use an ouija board to try to score. The board somehow leads them to an empty lot in the rain. “That board sure did its work,” says the film’s narrator, Sortilège (Joanna Newsom). “They didn’t score any dope, but somehow, suddenly. It didn’t matter.” Anderson films this in a series of montages, with Phoenix and Waterston silently laughing their way through the rain as Neil Young’s “Journey Through the Past” plays over the soundtrack. It’s the type of laid-back, lovely sequence that has the power to make you feel high without the aid of controlled substances.
Jacob Hall: Fred Kwan in Galaxy Quest
Galaxy Quest famously cut some of its raunchiest bits to achieve a PG rating and the final film is all the stronger for it. However, one of its best adult-oritented jokes remains hidden in plain sight. Fred Kwan, played by the great Tony Shalhoub, is stoned throughout the duration of the film. Director Dean Parisot confirmed this to MTV a few years back:
Tony brought up David Carradine in “Kung Fu” [another example of a non-Asian actor playing an Asian character] and the story goes — I don’t know if it’s true — that David Carradine was completely stoned all of the time on that show. Dialogue would just come out of his head and people would just stare at each other and think, “Where did that come from?” We knew we couldn’t do a stoner because we needed to hit a PG-13, but we basically suggested that.
Mission accomplished, because as a kid, I just thought Fred was a relaxed oddball. Now, it’s so obvious and so much funnier. Shalhoub’s dazed expression, tired eyes, goofy smile, and lethargic, laid-back delivery all make a hell of a lot more sense when you realize he’s taking a few hits whenever he’s not on screen. While the rest of the cast, playing actors from a science fiction show sucked into a real-life interstellar conflict, scream and freak out at their predicament, he takes it all in stride. In this state, all this chaos is pretty, pretty cool.