Smiley Face

A sterling space cadet performance by Anna Faris floats this genial if slight pothead comedy.

With:
With: Anna Faris, Danny Masterson, Adam Brody, Jane Lynch, John Krasinski, Marion Ross, Michael Hitchcock, John Cho, Danny Trejo, Roscoe Lee Browne.

A sterling space cadet performance by Anna Faris floats the genial if slight pothead comedy “Smiley Face,” a distaff “Dude, Where’s My Car?” Those who welcomed the new “mature” Gregg Araki’s “Mysterious Skin” last year may be nonplussed by this follow-up, his most unabashedly silly effort. Script by Dylan Haggerty is a stoned meander through incidents that are seldom more than mildly inspired, but direction and (especially) star make 84 minutes pass with no pain and a lot of giggles. Limited-release biz should be decent if not sleeper-grade.

Similarly following protag on a long, serpentine and fairly senseless “quest” influenced by heavy ingestion of pot, pic lacks “Dude’s” Surrealism Lite giddiness. But, in Faris, pic has a comedienne with the ability to wring endless variations on a limited theme (the “I’m-so-baked” one) and she pretty much single-handedly compensates for anything lacking.

Jane (Faris), a former economics major turned wannabe actress on unemployment, uneasily shares an apartment with Steve (Danny Masterson), a sci-fi nerd whose undercurrent of hostility is no doubt heightened by Jane’s paranoia-inducing drug of choice.

Getting stoned a tad early (9:17 a.m.), she maps out the day’s tasks: Buy more pot, go to audition, pay off dealer, pay up electric bill, and do NOT eat the cupcakes Steve has made for the sci-fi nerd convention. Needless to say, these simple responsibilities become way more than Jane can handle — especially once she’s eaten the forbidden cupcakes, unaware they are loaded with more marijuana.

Scurrying all over Los Angeles — often in a breathless panic from dangers both real and imagined, protag crosses paths with the dreaded cops, sausage factory workers, a first edition copy of “The Communist Manifesto” and other random buzz-killers.

Cast of comedy pros mostly drafted from the small screen provide amiable support. Still, “Smiley Face” would evaporate in a puff of smoke if it were not for the inventiveness of Faris. Actress has been funny in large parts (as the “Scary Movie” series’ ongoing topliner) and in small parts (“Lost in Translation,” “Brokeback Mountain”), but she has never had to carry a film this completely. She’s often flat-out hilarious, whether the material offers much help or not. It’s hard to imagine any of the current A-list queens of movie comedy (excepting Reese Witherspoon) doing half so well under similar taxing circumstances.

Modest production makes good use of locations that emphasize L.A.’s bland sprawling majority, as well as some “classic rock” tracks (Styx, REO Speedwagon) from the days when bongs were an everyday household item — even if one usually hidden under teenage beds.

Araki and design contribbers create a fun look on what appears to be a less-than-generous budget, though some jokey intertitles and other visual gimmicks err on the side of obviousness. On-screen title, by the way, is an actual smiley-face symbol rather than the spelled-out phrase.

Smiley Face

Production: A First Look Pictures production in association with Anonymous Content and Desperate Pictures. Produced by Henry Winterstern, Kevin Turen, Steve Golin, Alix Madigan-Yorkin, Gregg Araki. Executive producers, Jorg Westerkamp, Thomas Becker, Stuart Burkin, H. Jason Beck. Co-producer, Hans C. Ritter. Directed by Gregg Araki. Screenplay, Dylan Haggerty.

Crew: Camera (color), Shawn Kim; editor, Araki; music, David Kitay; music supervisor, Tracy McKnight; production designer, John Larena; art director, Helen Harwell; set decorator, Peggy Paola; costume designer, Monika Mikkelsen; sound (Dolby Digital), Trip Block; assistant director, Amy Armstrong. Reviewed at Sundance Film Festival (Park City at Midnight), Jan. 25, 2007. (In Cannes Film Festival -- Directors' Fortnight.) Running time: 84 MIN.

With: With: Anna Faris, Danny Masterson, Adam Brody, Jane Lynch, John Krasinski, Marion Ross, Michael Hitchcock, John Cho, Danny Trejo, Roscoe Lee Browne.

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