April 20th is the day we celebrate cannibis culture. According to legend, the roots of the holiday stem to a group of teens in early 1970s San Rafael, California, who used the term “4:20” for their search for an abandoned cannibis crop (they met after school, at 4:20 pm). They never found the crop, but they did inadvertently create a term that is still in use some fifty years later. A piece in High Times magazine in 1998 told the story of the boys and their treasure hunt; one of the boys, Dave Reddix, had later become a roadie for Grateful Dead bassist Phil Lesh, so the consensus is that Reddix passed the phrase along to Lesh, and the Deadhead community helped popularize it.
Now that marijuana use has been legalized in many places (in my state, Michigan, medical and recreational use are both legal), the celebration tends to look a little different. Here at Peanut Butter and Julie, I’ll observe the day by honoring my favorite fictional stoners.
- Ron Slater, Dave Wooderson and Randall “Pink” Floyd, Dazed and Confused
I knew before I even saw Dazed and Confused for the first time that I would love it. What I didn’t know was how much I would love a scrappy little stoner boy named Ron Slater. Played by the delightful Rory Cochrane, Slater is the quintessential slacker, single-minded in his pursuit of recreation, but he’s also an historian and a philosopher – his take on George and Martha Washington being weed farmers is one of the funniest bits in the movie. The life of every party, Slater is always fixing to be a lot better. His sole disappointment in life? He never gets shotgun.
Yes, Wooderson is super creepy – if he were a real person, he’d have been a “Times Up” cautionary tale by now. But I do admire Wooderson’s motto: “Just keep livin’…L-I-V-I-N”. Matthew McConaughey, in his first film role, oozed with confidence and charisma, and the role of Wooderson expanded to match his outsized personality. Apparently, director Richard Linklater initially hesitated to cast McConaughey because he was “too handsome”, and you can hardly blame him, but I’m glad Linklater was able to see past McConaughey’s absurd good looks to the actor underneath.
Randall “Pink” Floyd is having a bit of an existential crisis: he wants to continue to play football but is uneasy about the pledge his coaches have asked him to sign, promising not to engage in any activity that would “jeopardize the goal of a championship season in ’76”. As played by Jason London, Pink just wants to enjoy the last day of school and the rituals that go along with being an incoming senior, but he’s caught between his teammates and his stoner friends. When Pink, Wooderson and company are busted on the fifty yard line of the school’s football field, the police call the coach. In the end, Pink crumples up the pledge and tosses it at the coach (“I may play football, but I will never sign that.”), and goes off with the stoners – to the strains of Foghat’s “Slow Ride” – to buy Aerosmith tickets.
- The Dude, The Big Lebowski
Please do not refer to Jeffrey Lebowski (Jeff Bridges) as Jeff or Mr. Lebowski – it’s “The Dude”, thank you very much (or His Dudeness, or El Duderino, if you’re not into the whole brevity thing). All The Dude wants to do is bowl with his friends Walter and Donny, drink White Russians and get high, not necessarily in that order. The Dude’s tranquil life is disrupted when he is mistaken for another Jeff Lebowski, whose trophy wife Bunny owes money to porn tycoon Jackie Treehorn. Treehorn’s goons break into The Dude’s apartment and, realizing they have the wrong Lebowski, leave – but not before urinating on his favorite rug (“That rug really tied the room together”). This sets off an absurd series of events that can only occur in a Coen film. Featuring a fantastically talented supporting cast (among them, John Goodman, Steve Buscemi, Julianne Moore, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Sam Elliott), The Big Lebowski nevertheless rests on Bridges’ more-than-capable shoulders.
- Larry “Doc” Sportello, Inherent Vice
Paul Thomas Anderson’s astonishingly underrated Inherent Vice, based on Thomas Pynchon’s novel of the same name, stars the incomparable Joaquin Phoenix as “Doc” Sportello, a hippie/private investigator who finds himself embroiled in LA’s criminal underworld. Phoenix’s performance feels entirely lived-in (he was deservedly nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Actor – Musical or Comedy, but he lost to Michael Keaton); the film itself could best be described as “Sam Spade meets Cheech & Chong”. Speaking of which…
- Anthony “Man” Stoner and Pedro de Pacas – Cheech and Chong’s Up in Smoke
Cheech Marin and Tommy Chong, for all intents and purposes, created the stoner buddy genre. The two met in Vancouver in the late 1960s; Chong was a Canadian citizen, and Marin had moved there to avoid the Vietnam War draft. They started performing stand-up together, and released their first album in 1971. Their success culminated in Up in Smoke, their first of several films together. The plot is flimsy, consisting mostly of a series of skits; the story concludes with Man and Pedro’s band, Alice Bowie, winning a Battle of the Bands. The movie was a critical failure but made a killing at the box office, earning $104 million on a $2 million budget, and Cheech and Chong became one of the most successful comedy duos of all time. Fun fact: Ivan Reitman originally conceived Stripes as a Cheech and Chong vehicle, but the two demanded creative control, so Reitman had the screenwriter rework it for ultimate stars Bill Murray and Harold Ramis. Fun fact #2: The Lion King‘s hyaenas Shenzi and Banzai were modeled after the duo; apparently the two weren’t getting along at the time, so Chong declined, leaving Cheech to voice Banzai and Whoopi Goldberg to voice Shenzi.
- Jeff Spicoli, Fast Times at Ridgemont High
Sean Penn’s turn as Jeff Spicoli in Fast Times at Ridgemont High is the kind of comedic performance that can only be achieved by a remarkable dramatic actor; he attacks the role with a method-like intensity. Penn also has terrific chemistry with Ray Walston, who plays Spicoli’s nemesis Mr. Hand, and with Anthony Edwards and Eric Stoltz, who play his stoner buds (legit, they are both listed in the film’s credits as “Stoner Bud”). Fast Times was the cream of the 80s teen sex comedy crop, and has aged remarkably well; Penn’s performance is still the best thing about it, providing much-needed levity to contrast the darker aspects of the story, like Stacey’s abortion.
- Floyd, True Romance
On the cusp of superstardom in 1993, Brad Pitt turned in one of his funniest performances ever in True Romance, playing Floyd, the stoner roommate of Clarence’s friend Dick. Pitt makes the most of his mere minutes of screen time, wringing laughter from the tiniest details, like Floyd’s honey bear bong. Pitt purportedly improvised much of his dialogue, and it is pure genius. The following year, Pitt would vault onto the A-list with the one-two punch of Interview with the Vampire and Legends of the Fall, and his days of taking supporting roles like Floyd were over. It’s too bad, because I’ll take Floyd over Louis and Tristan any day.
- Ted and Marshall – How I Met Your Mother
Since Future Ted is telling his kids this story, he resorts to using an interesting euphemism for smoking weed – “eating a sandwich”. The joke first appears in the season 3 episode “How I Met Everyone Else”, as Future Ted tells his kids how he first met their Uncle Marshall, and it became one of the series’ best running gags. While you wouldn’t necessarily refer to the characters as “stoners”, it’s clear that college-age Ted and Marshall engaged in the activity on a pretty regular basis. Once in awhile, older Ted and Marshall would eat a sandwich as well; in the standout season 7 episode “Tick Tick Tick”, the two (along with a pregnant Lily) attend a concert, and eat a sandwich that may have been laced with “hard meats”. The results are harrowing for Ted and Marshall, and absolutely hilarious for us.
- Dale Denton and Saul Silver – Pineapple Express
The Cheech and Chong of the 21st century, Seth Rogan and James Franco both got their start on the lovely, cancelled-before-its-time Freaks and Geeks (I’ll talk more about this extraordinary series another time). Rogan and Franco vaulted to stardom, and their love of cannibis culminated in 2008’s Pineapple Express, named for a particularly heady strain of marijuana. The movie is shockingly violent for a stoner buddy comedy, as Saul and Ted are ensnared in a war between a corrupt cop and an Asian gang. The inspiration for the film was actually True Romance‘s Floyd – producer Judd Apatow thought it would be interesting to follow Floyd out of his apartment and watch him get chased by bad guys. The film was a box office success, making a worldwide total of $101 million on a $26 million budget; a sequel was planned but the filmmakers and the studio couldn’t agree on a budget. However, we were treated to a pseudo-sequel by way of the movie-within-a-movie in 2013’s This Is the End.
- Honorable mentions:
So, readers – who are YOUR favorite fictional stoners? And how are you all celebrating 4/20?