"Grass" pokes fun at the dopes who run the war on drugs, but starts to drag when it comes to real answers.
By KRISTINA FELICIANO
"Grass" is an amusing anti-propaganda propaganda film.
But not much more than that.
Director Ron Mann wants to demystify and destigmatize
marijuana smoking. Pot should be legalized, according
to "Grass," because smoking it is no more physically
damaging than drinking alcohol, and our government has
been wasting billions of dollars fighting to eradicate
marijuana use when even respectable public figures
like former New York City Mayor Fiorello La Guardia have
attested to its relative harmlessness (more on that
|Directed by: Ron Mann.|
Narrated by: Woody Harrelson.
Related links: Official site
It's a sound argument, and you do leave the theater
wondering if maybe we should rethink our attitudes
toward benign ol' Mary Jane. But the journey to
enlightenment that "Grass" promises to deliver is a
pretty heavy-handed trip. There is never any relief
from Mann's earnestness. Even the animated segues by
Paul Mavrides things like illustrated prison bars
slamming and a counter loudly tallying the dollar
amount being spent on the drug war between the film's
segments are relentlessly urgent.
"Grass" begins with pot's arrival in the U.S. (Mexican
laborers brought it over in the 1920s and used to
smoke it to relax after a day in the fields the same
way their white-collar counterparts would down a drink
after a day in the office) and takes us through its
demonization, criminalization, and misrepresentation.
Archival footage and photos and a smokin' soundtrack
(including the swing song "Reefer Man") help make the
case for tolerance. And a subdued Woody Harrelson, a
natural-born hemp activist, narrates.
The movie is entertaining enough, but it's no call to
action. Part of the problem may have to do with the
cause itself. It's hard to get heated up about the
pro-pot movement when you've just seen, say, a James
Nachtwey photo of a starving Rwandan. It's difficult
to be moved to work for change when it feels as if
you'd be fighting for someone's right to go bong-ers
and not something more sociologically redeeming.|
But it helps to think of the money, time, and lives
being wasted in the struggle to keep this a weed-free
country points that "Grass" skillfully, if strenuously,
illuminates. The harsh minimum sentences for
first-time offenders, for example, have pushed our
prisons to overflowing. Think there's not enough room
in the penitentiaries to continue prosecuting drug
offenders? Don't worry. President George Bush
appears on the screen, promising that he'll make room.
I wish there had been more moments like this one,
where politicians' foolishness and hard-headedness
were on display without any embellishment. "Grass"
contains gratuitous scenes of various government
officials flubbing their lines when attempting to film
public addresses related to drug use. I suppose Mann's
trying to show that this great omniscient force we
call the government is actually nothing more than a
bunch of ordinary human beings who, like us, at times
are misinformed and make mistakes. But in 2000, when
we've deconstructed everything to the point that we
actually discuss the details of our president's sex
life, is there anyone left who needs to be reminded of
the human frailties of our elected leaders? The
bloopers in this movie play like cheap shots.
Better to take the considered approach, like fiery
Mayor La Guardia. He challenged the common perception
that pot was a threat to mind, body, and New York City
and commissioned a study to learn about the drug. He
concluded, in accordance with the results of the
study, that pot's overall significance had been
"Grass's" import, too, has been blown out of proportion.
Consume it with an eye toward moderation.
|MARCH 27, 2000|
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