Ask any marijuana advocate about the transcendental qualities of smokin’ da herb and they’ll probably tell you it can overcome just about anything – culture, language, ideology, social/economic divide etcetera etcetera.
Stoner flicks of the western world tend to reflect ganga’s global ubiquitousness in the casting of ethnically diverse characters: think Harold and Kumar, think Dave Chapelle in Half Baked, think Cheech and Chong. But what about indigenous Australians? Why aren’t they represented? Surely some of them must gather round the camp fire and pass the dutchie to the left hand side? Shouldn’t aboriginal stoners have their own film genre?
“Of course they should and man I could murder one of them pineapple donuts and a blueberry choctop with like lots of blueberries” I murmured to no one in particular as I stubbed out a scoob and sauntered into Melbourne’s Cinema Nova to watch writer/director Richard Frankland’s Stone Bros., which he proudly proclaims (and it’s true) is Australia’s first indigenous stoner road movie.
It was surprising to discover the cinema around 90% full at 1:50pm on a Tueday – this is an Australian film, what on earth are people doing actually watching it? – with at least three quarters of the crowd clearly not stoners (they looked more like self-funded retirees). It became clear very early on however that they were willing to give the film a red hot go, prepared to roll with it good spiritedly in the hope of having some arvo chuckles. After early giggles involving a chubby cat’s untimely demise (killed by a giant photograph of John Howard, no less) the laughter became more strained and the audience less tolerant as the film’s wonky plot, indefinable rhythm and lackadaisical direction gradually took its toll.
This year’s sublime Samson & Delilah opened with a shot of Samson (Rowan McNamara) taking a long deep whiff from a tin of petrol; following on the drug theme Stone Bros. begins with Charlie (Leon Burchill) rolling 187 joints during the opening credits. He numbers each of them, leading one to expect Frankland will make something of the order in which they’re smoked, or the number smoked, etc, but like a lot of the film’s tangents nothing comes of it. Charlie and his cousin Eddie (Luke Carroll) decide to ditch the big smoke (if Perth can be considered such) and head to their hometown, Kalgoorlie. Eddie has promised to return a sacred stone to his uncle, though virtually no back story exists to explain the stone’s significance. The infantile Charlie just wants to smoke doobies, talk trash, eat chocolate sandwiches and escape the oppressive company of his miffed I’ve-had-enough-you-stoopid-layabout girlfriend. Like most road movies the story is inherently episodic and comprises a disjointed array of potentially funny scenarios, potentially funny in the sense that they could lead to something amusing but rarely do – like encounters with hitchhikers, a visit to an outback jail, a wedding party tormented by a dynamite-wielding psycho, a confrontation with a possessed dog and so forth.
Sadly the jokes rarely connect and the dramatic friction between the two central characters feels forced and unconvincing. Some gags – such as one involving a giant spider in the car – are stretched very thin and generate little to no comedic dividends. The outback wedding scene, where Charlie makes the groom pass out then beds one of the bridal party, is not particularly amusing and not particularly dramatic and much of the film lingers lazily between the two spheres, offering no consistent vibe and, well, not much of anything. Stoners who are organised enough to make it to an art cinema to see Stone Bros. for the pot puns will be badly disappointed, the weed jokes very light on the ground. Worse yet, Frankland slaps onto the end of the film a hastily made and entirely unconvincing anti-drugs message (essentially one line of dialogue) that is supposed to represent some kind of hard-fought epiphany for the characters but feels more like Frankland has become a stoner’s Judas Iscariot, selling out the cause in favour of a more mainstream perspective.
This bumper sticker drugs-are-bad-mmkay? message is one of the reasons Frankland cried foul when the OFLC gave Stone Bros. an MA rating: the film is anti-drugs, he argued, so won’t somebody please think of the children? Without entering the whole classification debate I thought the MA rating was, in comparison to other films, probably fair. The drug references might have someone to do with it, but what about the scene in which Charlie – refusing to wear a white condom – decides to cover it with chocolate sauce and says “no white man’s gonna colonise my c**k!” That might have something to do with it too.
Stone Bros. Australian theatrical release date: September 24, 2009