SXSW Review: SUPER HIGH ME
I am not a pot smoker.
I do not say this to sound self-righteous or to launch into an anti-marijuana screed, merely to inform you that, even as a non-weed aficionado, I laughed continually throughout Super High Me, along with the rest of the packed Paramount Theater last Friday evening. The film documents stand-up comedian Doug Benson's decision to get high every day for 30 days, a la Morgan Spurlock's Super Size Me. What started as a joke in Benson's routine turned into reality when filmmaker Michael Blieden (The Comedians of Comedy) caught wind of the idea. Benson and Blieden expanded the gag by also documenting the previous 30 days that long-time pot smoker Benson spent going without weed, so they would have a point of comparison for the effects of smoking marijuana.
Did the rest of the audience laugh more than I did? Most assuredly. Did they laugh even when the doc got a bit repetitive and veered betweens points of view? Most assuredly. Do I still recommend the movie? Most assuredly.
Doug Benson is explosively funny, both on stage and off. He has a quick, witty mind and a great delivery, and he knows when to add a shrug, an eye roll, or a hand gesture to accentuate the joke. The film starts off with excerpts from Benson's stand-up routine, and then segues into how the experiment should be conducted. It was decided that the marijuana should be obtained legally. In the state of California, that's not as hard as you might imagine; several years ago, a measure was passed that allowed for the sale of marijuana for medical purposes. All that's needed is a prescription from a doctor. Benson obtains his prescription and heads to a local dispensary (AKA "a storefront to buy weed").
Ah, but first, Benson must refrain from marijuana use so as to establish a baseline for the experiment. He undergoes a series of medical exams, and these routine tests serve as comedy foil for Benson. He also continues performing in comedy clubs and spending time with friends, who include Sarah Silverman, Bob Odenkirk, and Patton Oswalt. This part of the film is consistently amusing, as Benson riffs comedically on whatever is put in front of him. He's a ball of energy; even when he gets high, he's not so much mellow as contained.
Once the 30 days of getting high begins, the film is still amusing, but I felt that a number of scenes were retreads of ones we'd already seen in the "de-toxing" phase. Like hearing the same joke twice in short order, it just wasn't as funny, and neither did the retreads shed any additional light or provide a different angle on the subject. The audience didn't agree with me, though, and kept on laughing.
As you might expect, the film is overwhelmingly positive about the use of marijuana. Where Super High Me gets a bit fuzzier is in deciding the basis upon which it should be positive. The medical exams reveal that Benson ended up about the same, whether he was smoking or not. If my memory from a few days ago is correct, most tests showed that he did better or the same with marijuana, while a couple showed he did worse. Certainly his comedy did not seem to suffer either way.
So is marijuana use OK because it makes you feel good and may not affect you medically? Or is it OK for medical use in places where it's legalized? (Director Blieden includes interviews with folks who testify positively.) Or is the whole issue about states' rights versus the federal government? (A representative of Red Envelope Entertainment, which will be distributing the film, asserts that this is why he got involved, and we see footage of dispensaries being closed down and the owners arrested by the DEA, to the protests of onlookers.) Or it it a combination?
If anything, Super High Me leans toward the latter. It's almost as though their conclusion was: "Whatever the reason you might personally have, we think it's OK." The film doesn't advocate marijuana usage, but it does condone it.
Wherever you stand on the issues involved, whether you smoke or not, Super High Me is a funny trip you'll probably want to take.