About a week ago, Slate explored the mashup of two (seemingly distinct) types of films — noir and stoner comedies — into an offspring genre it refers to as “Slacker Noir.” You might be thinking, “Slacker noir? Explain.” V Renée, Managing Editor at No Film School, originally had a similar reaction. However, she thought about the connection Slate made a bit more, and wrote a great short article about why the hybrid actually makes perfect sense.
The Slate video describes slacker noir as a mystery in which “the protagonist’s primary goal is to extricate himself from the main storyline, rather than somehow solve or resolve the conflict. It’s a parody, sometimes directly, of the classic noir detective film, where the protagonist is often single-mindedly devoted to unraveling the case at hand, even at the cost of self-preservation.”
The contrasting genres both have cynical world views, the video professes. In noir, all men are corrupt. In stoner comedies, the protagonists are “victims of circumstance,” incapable of controlling their own destiny, no matter how righteous or innocent they might be. Whereas a noir hero will stop at nothing to solve the case, “the slacker hero, then, is his mirror image, and the trial at hand is — for him — simply an obstacle in the way of a detached and self absorbed way of life.” The slacker/stoner wants to solve the case just enough and as far as it will allow him to return to an anonymous life.
The No Film School write-up probes deeper, pondering the question, of all the possible correlating genres, “Why stoner comedies?” Renée did some digging and traced her epiphany back to a 2007 Slate article on the subject, which states, “Besides the act of looking for marijuana, the other main activity in a stoner movie is escaping authority figures (often the police, but occasionally campus security guards, co-workers, or parents) who don’t just oppose the stoner’s flagrant drug usage but their lifestyle of leisure and innocence.”
That last bit flipped the light on over her head. She concluded that, “film noir is all about fractured innocence, high stakes, life or death — the opposite of leisurely taking rips with your friends down in your basement. Putting a stoner character in the middle of the film noir universe is really very brilliant, because he/she is a direct contradiction to the highly capable, though highly unvirtuous private eyes, cops, and detectives driven solely by the desire to solve the crime (or save their own necks).”
Read the full No Film School piece here, and watch the video essay below.