C+

Newlyweeds

C+

Newlyweeds

Director: Shaka King
Runtime: 87 minutes
Rating: R
Cast: Amari Cheatom, Trae Harris, Tone Tank

Shaka King’s debut feature is a broadly comic message movie about stoners struggling with dependence and responsibility. It contains fantasy sequences, overlong subplots, contrived misunderstandings, disapproving parents, and a scene in which someone accidentally ingests pot brownies. The film even ends with a symbolic, token-based gesture straight out of Screenwriting 101. And yet, at times, it’s surprisingly compelling, thanks to King’s surefooted direction of actors and well-honed formal sense; while the movie’s execution never quite makes up for its conception, it does elevate it above, well, just being the sort of movie that would be called Newlyweeds.

Amari Cheatom and Trae Harris star as a Brooklyn couple living in a perpetual fog of pot smoke. Cheatom is a repo man too stoned to remember what items he’s supposed to be repossessing. He spends his downtime smoking joints in the company van while talking trash with his co-worker, Tone Tank; their conversations have an improvised quality that, instead of detouring into comic riffs, invests their dialogue with the rhythms of real speech. Harris is a prototypical smart-but-unambitious post-grad who dreams of traveling the world but works as a museum guide, and the movie gets its best laughs out of the way her stoned imagination connects with children.

Throughout the film, King deploys longish takes, including a couple of impressively choreographed Steadicam sequences. His continually drifting camera brings to mind the work of Abel Ferrara—as do the scuzzy production design, numerous scenes of stoned groups hanging out, and use of neighborhood characters as narrative counterpoints. However, without the fever-pitch emotional intensity that characterizes Ferrara’s work, the most these techniques can do is create a sense of time and place. They go a long way, though not long enough to give this simplistic movie much depth.

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