Watching movies and smoking weed go together like peanut butter and jelly, toddlers and tiaras, pussy and Patron. It’s a classic combination for a reason! But when it comes to actually portraying weed, filmmakers tend to fall flat, subbing in 2D stereotypes for nuanced depictions of the world’s most popular “illicit” drug and the people who consume it.
Because I’m annoying, I have a hard time suspending my disbelief through obvious mischaracterizations of a drug that so many of us know so well. Sorry, you ripped the bong once and had full auditory and visual hallucinations that led to you trying to eat your roommate desert-island style? This isn’t middle school health class: I know, and you know that I know, that shit is fake as hell.
My personal favorite stoner character, the one I feel is most true-to-life, is Anna Faris’s deliciously vacant Jane in Smiley Face, a movie that captures exactly what it feels like to get too high on a day when you have a lot of errands to run. She’s paranoid, disoriented, a little less eloquent than she thinks she is—to which I say, oh my God saaaaaame. The portrayal, dare I say… hit.
To find more true-to-life pot smokers on the big screen, I asked a few of the coolest, stoniest people I could think of about their take on stoner cinema. There’s Rachel Wolfson, comedian and official Jackass. Beca Grimm, founder of feminist cannabis community Graze Club. Zach Harris, cannabis writer and former budtender. Jessamyn Stanley, yoga teacher and cannabis justice/body positivity advocate. Trey Smith, VICE producer and our resident cool guy. And writer/editor Sara David. Here’s what they had to say.
What’s your favorite piece of stoner cinema and why?
Harris: I have a few. Sean Penn as Spicoli in Fast Times at Ridgemont High—the whole point of putting weed into a movie is to make it a little absurd, drag it to an extreme. When he smacks his head with the slip-on Vans and says, “Dude, that's my skull,” that's the best stoner line of any movie. Brad Pitt in True Romance is also really good in that same classic way that he’s there just to be stoned and there’s no other character [development].
On the other end of the spectrum, there’s a character in that Rian Johnson movie Brick, this mob enforcer character who is constantly smoking what you believe are cigarettes throughout the whole movie. And then at the end, it's like one of those more twists that he's like, “Oh, no, I don't smoke cigarettes.” And it's just like, he was smoking weed the whole time, but you never realized it or knew it. I thought that was a good way to do it, where it's like, Oh, yeah, people just smoke weed all the time and you don't really notice.
Wolfson: I love the scene in Knocked Up when Seth Rogen is talking to his dad, Harold Ramis, and his dad says, ‘If it grows in the ground, it’s probably OK.’ I just thought that was such a cool, subtle moment between father and son—I never forgot about it. And then there’s still that element in the movie of the dumb stoner when the earthquake happens and the first thing Seth Rogan grabs is his bong, not his pregnant girlfriend. But I May Destroy You was one of the first times weed was portrayed in a relatable way for me—the main character Arabella uses it to help her creatively, to destress and enjoy her friends. I loved how weed was represented and how she rolled a joint. Then, way earlier, Weeds was cool. I loved that it existed and had a powerful female lead, a suburban soccer mom—that does exist, and here it is!
Grimm: Truly, Melanie in Jackie Brown is living my dream life: camped on the sofa in a bikini with a bong watching TV, even though that's a trope stoners have been fighting for forever, the whole being lazy and couch-locked thing.
I am not trying to endorse Woody Allen here—he's a fucking monster—but Diane Keaton's eponymous character in Annie Hall is probably the most accurate of what I know stoner life to be. She smokes to relax, to make conversation and sex better. It's a part of Annie's regular—if not daily—life, but not what I'd call a defining characteristic. Especially now, weed has gone so mainstream that it seems lazy if not just too broad to root one's personality in identifying as a “pothead.” Weed, to me, is an enhancement, a bonus. It's extra glitter and pizazz (and OK, also medicine), not the only thing there is.
Stanley: The scene on Atlanta, Season 2 Ep. 4, when Donald Glover & Zazie Beetz’s characters are smoking weed in their car. No big fuss, just medicating en route to their destination. I don’t even know if the fact that they were smoking weed is ever actually mentioned. That’s the reality of smoking weed—it’s just not that big a deal, and everyone does it all the time. I’m speaking hyperbolically but you know what I mean: Consuming cannabis is incredibly normal and it’s time we evolved beyond these dated stereotypes of what it means to be a stoner.
I want to watch things that help me enjoy what I love most about being stoned: the feeling of being chill, ready to indulge in pleasure, and willing to build on absurdist humor and laugh until I cry. - Sara David
Smith: The first stoner character I really liked was when I was little. I didn’t know he was high all the time, but I knew something was up: Bobby from A Goofy Movie, Max’s friend. He was just a cool dude! He had a cool haircut and cool glasses, but he was definitely on another level than everybody else was. He was always down to help out his friends and he just had a lot of imagination—he made a fucking historical monument after cheese! After I got older, I realized what was up. My girlfriend pointed out that I wear the same type of sunglasses, so, you know, there’s a little subconscious thing there too.
David: When I'm stoned, I don't want to watch things about weed. I don't even want to watch documentaries about drugs because it'll inevitably send me into a thought spiral about history and persecution. I want to watch things that help me enjoy what I love most about being stoned: the feeling of being chill, ready to indulge in pleasure, and willing to build on absurdist humor and laugh until I cry. That's why my favorite piece of stoner cinema isn't even about stoners. Pootie Tang is, to me, a stoner movie without any weed. It's just a perfect blend of comedy, absurdism, and delight, all things that are improved with weed.
What do movies get wrong about people who smoke weed?
Smith: In movies, everybody is just blasted out of their mind all the time. The stoner for some reason is seen as lazy and not willing to subscribe to general decency and keeping your shit in order in public. Most people who smoke weed, you don’t even know when they’re smoking weed—you just assume they’re high because of past usage. Half the time people in comments under my music interviews are like, ‘Oh, he's high as hell!’ No. This is just how I am all the time, guys. Sorry to disappoint. And you don’t see weed smokers wearing regular clothes. They’re always dressed like The Dude.
Wolfson: Movies heavily portray weed as a guy thing, and I don’t think they portray it accurately. When I was growing up, we had How High?, Harold & Kumar, Cheech & Chong from my parents’ generation. The stereotypical stoner characters in those movies represent something you don’t want to be: a bad friend, a bad partner, a bad student. And that’s not real, you know? I would love to see stories about how someone had to get into weed because whatever they were working in fucked them over, or the kid who had to come off antidepressants and found weed—these are accurate stories and I don’t think they’re being represented at all.
Harris: That the government grows good weed. Every movie has “the government weed.” But if you actually know what the government grows, you know the government grows the worst weed. Like, there’s a farm in Mississippi that is the only one federally allowed to grow cannabis for cancer patients and federally funded research… and it’s barely recognizable as weed. Also, no one knows how to clear a bong in movies! That’s never been done.
Stereotypical stoner characters represent something you don’t want to be: a bad friend, a bad partner, a bad student. And that’s not real, you know? - Rachel Wolfson
Stanley: Film and television portrayals of cannabis and the people who consume it are dated and inaccurate. They rarely showcase the creativity and medicinal benefits that come from smoking weed and it really just makes the portrayals look silly.
David: Besides the fact that most stoner movies star men, I think the functionality part is the most inaccurate. Many stoners are stoned all day, including during their work shifts, with absolutely no negative impact. But I get that that's less fun to show on film.
Grimm: Any character who hits a joint is a burn-out or loser or like the great Cher Horowitz said in Clueless, “It is one thing to spark up a doobie and get laced at parties, but it is quite another to be fried all day.” First of all, it sounds like a narc infiltrating a teen-frequented hot spot wrote this line. Secondly, no, Cher! You can be fried (semi or fully) all day and live your damn life. FINALLY, non-dudes get high, too! But that was in 1995. Smoking weed isn't subversive or hyper-masculine anymore. Fucking Martha Stewart hawked lighters alongside Snoop Dogg in a very blatantly double-entendre commercial and Goop sells pipes (which are actually very very good). The most boring teacher from your high school now pops an edible when they feel frisky.
What’s your favorite thing to watch when you’re high?
David: I love watching things that make me feel either smooth-brained with no worries (no-stakes reality TV like Great British Bake-Off or Love Island), that make me laugh until I cry (I Think You Should Leave, Pootie Tang), and anything that makes me feel deep emotions, honestly. Sometimes I want to watch something nostalgic or emotional because that's how my high feels that day!
Smith: I love Blue Planet, I love Bob Ross, King of the Hill… Standard stuff, I suppose, nothing too exciting.
Grimm: My husband and I are big Bravo nerds—particularly Vanderpump Rules, Shahs of Sunset, and the Real Housewives franchises in Potomac and SLC. There's just so much sensory shit popping at once. (My first-ever Housewives experience was Atlanta, after a lot of mushrooms, on a road trip in college in a hotel room in Dillon, SC. It was too much and I made my friend turn it off. I've progressed since.) Other stuff: Architecture Digest's “Open Door” series; I am geographically obligated to like Atlanta but Donald Glover makes it easy; Take Out with Lisa Ling makes me feel like I'm traveling without moving from the couch or bed.
Stanley: I am high most of the time and smoke weed all day, so I enjoy consuming all media from that perspective. I always love watching documentaries because they make me think more critically and holistically about the world around me.
Wolfson: I love any alien stuff—sometimes when I get super high I’m like, OK, let’s put on Ancient Aliens. Reality television, like 90 Day Fiancé or Married at First Sight, because it’s easy to check out from, and—not to be morbid—but probably a good murder documentary.
Harris: USA Network procedurals. Can’t go wrong with Monk. I think Monk is secretly for stoners—the only guest stars they ever had were Willie Nelson and Snoop Dogg.
Katie Way is a senior staff writer at VICE. Follow her on Twitter.