Classic stoner comedies embody 4/20 culture

Charles Liu

Movie characters have been blazing it for years, and the best stoner comedies are the ones that give their viewers a truly special high. Here are four movies The Daily Texan recommends you pass along.

“Inherent Vice”

  • Paul Thomas Anderson throws coherence out the window in “Inherent Vice,” an inexplicably dense detective picture involving murder, drugs, kidnapping and cults set during the waning days of American counterculture. Viewers will feel exactly like “Doc” Sportello (Joaquin Phoenix), a private investigator and pothead who’s unlucky enough to be swept up in a multitude of conspiracies. He’s pulled in first by his ex (Katherine Waterston), who needs his help finding her lost lover (Eric Roberts), but it is Doc’s encounters with “Bigfoot” Bjornsen (Josh Brolin) which send him into the abyss.

This adaptation of Thomas Pynchon’s novel begins adding layer upon layer of plot, building to a manic, paranoid high, then mellowing out in its last act. You’ll be hard-pressed to understand what’s actually going on during the film’s hefty running time if you’re not paying strict attention at all times, but “Inherent Vice” is immensely satisfying to those who do. A movie such as this one demands rewatches — and it deserves them.

“The Big Lebowski”

  • This Coen brothers film is just as stoned as its characters. There’s a nonsensical string of events that almost makes up a plot, a string of events which tosses Jeffrey “The Dude” Lebowski (Jeff Bridges), an unassuming Los Angeles slacker, onto a journey to rescue the trophy wife of another, wealthier Jeffrey Lebowski (David Huddleston). Her kidnappers are German nihilists who demand a hefty ransom, and the Dude soon realizes he might be in over his head.

“The Big Lebowski” is executed with a consummate affinity for the bizarre.  The movie lazily stumbles through its plot points and often directs attention to secondary story threads, such as the Dude’s bowling escapades, which offer quotable exchanges and hearty laughs. “The Big Lebowski” is flippantly subversive — go in expecting something conventional, and you’ll be out of your element. 

“Pineapple Express”

  • James Franco and Seth Rogen kick off their comedy partnership in the crude, lowbrow “Pineapple Express.” Rogen plays Dale Denton, who goes on the run with his pot dealer Saul Silver (Franco) after witnessing a murder committed by a drug lord (Gary Cole). Danny McBride, Craig Robinson and Ken Jeong also make appearances as characters who are just like the movie they’re in: loud, brash and juvenile. 

“Pineapple Express” appropriately balances its abrasiveness with wit and heart. Yes, that heart boasts the same emotional maturity of a 12-year-old, but it’s also sweet. Franco and Rogen are delightful as likable losers, and their comic chemistry is impeccable.

“Dazed and Confused”

  • The night following the last day of school is more than alright for the characters of Richard Linklater’s “Dazed and Confused,” which encapsulates the joy and awkwardness of youth. Set in the 1970s, the picture is drawn to teenage rites of passage, from hazing to smoking pot, and finds its heroes in a crew of teens who get drunk and have sex. 

The main character is “Pink” Floyd (Jason London), a high school graduate and footballer who grapples with signing a pledge to abstain from drugs over the summer. Among the rest of the cast are young stars Matthew McConaughey, Milla Jovovich, Ben Affleck, Parker Posey and Adam Goldberg, who play characters that aren’t romanticized depictions of young adults. 

Throughout “Dazed and Confused,” Linklater explores the dynamics of the teenage climate, asks what makes the losers and winners, and delivers a profound and hopeful conclusion.