A doobie in hand — along with some munchables, of course — might aid viewing of “California, 90420,” an unfocused documentary that touches on marijuana legalization and other concrete issues, but too often seems content just to hang out with some people who really, really like pot. Dean Shull’s feature began single-showing and short-run dates at nearly 50 theaters nationwide April 20, and should further pass the pipe in home-format release.
Pic makes note of California’s awkward “semi-legal” status, in which growing and selling medicinal marijuana is state-approved (save where individual communities have banned it), in direct opposition to federal law. Shull visits Oakland’s Oaksterdam U., an unaccredited cannabis-industry training institute founded by prominent advocate Richard Lee, as well as a legal farm in Mendocino. He spends time with legalization activist Dale Sky Jones and Amber, a young wife and mother whose struggle with cancer has been greatly assisted by medical usage.
In a vague stab at a narrative arc, the docu follows the campaign for and against Proposition 19, which would have legalized most cannabis-related activity within the state. (It was defeated in November 2010, thanks in part to much-better-funded foes’ scare-tactic advertising, some perhaps bankrolled by illegal growers afraid the street value would plummet if pot were sold and taxed openly.)
But none of these topics is probed in any depth. What the pic does linger on, rather oddly, are a few young Oakland pot enthusiasts and small-time dealers whose personalities underline the notion that the more you imbibe, the less intelligent you sound. Twenty-five-year-old white “dubstep and hip-hop artist” John Hirsch, aka Johnny5, says the substance has worked better than any prescription drug for treating his ADD, ADHD, anxiety and depression.
Hirsch isn’t very articulate, but he’s a wellspring of clarity compared with 21-year-old Lx (pronounced Alex), an improbable underage writing prodigy-turned-slacker. Her irksome, giggly ramblings are typified when, contemplating the need to address bedbugs in her residence, she blurts “Fuck, there’s too many things to do here … I have to get a job … Do you guys wanna get ice cream?” Pic indulges her as comedy relief, but, akin to certain supporting-jester roles played by actors like Zach Galifianakis (glimpsed here lighting up on Bill Maher’s HBO chatshow), she’s more annoying than funny.
Resulting patchwork will do little to educate, persuade or appeal to those not already on the pro-marijuana side, tasks handled capably by numerous prior docus on the subject. Pre-existing supporters, however, should find it diverting enough. Adequate assembly features the requisite array of hemp-minded music.