Newlyweeds, the debut feature of writer-director Shaka King, is many things. It is an intriguing new take on the stoner comedy, the romantic comedy, and one might even say the “black comedy.”
It’s a charming independent venture that takes chances, many of which that work, in presenting a love story about growing up and growing apart. It’s also really funny. The film focuses on couple Lyle (Amari Cheatom) and Nina (Trae Harris), two twenty-somethings who spend a rather large portion of their time together getting high. Nina is a free-spirited tour guide at a local museum, while Lyle holds down a job he absolutely despises as a repo man for a seedy rent-to-own company.
Together, they create a bubble, a retreat from the world in their small New York apartment, where they share blunts and share dreams about changing their lives and traveling to distant lands together. But what once kept the couple close drives a wedge between them when Lyle complains about Nina’s proclivity for dipping too heavily and too frequently into their stash, while she criticizes him for spending all his money on weed when he could be saving up for their future travels. After some heated arguments, a night in jail, and a bad experience with a vaporizer and alcohol (which he usually never touches), Lyle’s life almost instantaneously spirals out of control.
Granted, a film about two stoners could never really go the route of a Requiem for a Dream or Candy, but if anything the weed serves as a catalyst that opens up the cracks of bigger issues in their relationship. Thankfully, though, the fighting and the emotional drama is juxtaposed with humor – one particularly funny scene involves Nina looking on in horror as a group of elementary school children accidentally eat a batch of pot brownies in her bag – comedy most definitely ensues. Still, the humor is accessible to stoners and non-stoners alike, an impressive feat when you compare the film to more traditional stoner fare in which literally every joke is about smoking pot.
As the couple’s relationship fractures and Lyle’s life turns into what can only be described as a hot mess, the movie does at moments suffer from a lack of focus that mimics its main character’s own state of mind. But ultimately, shot in a fluid, intimate style, it’s the chemistry and charisma of Cheatom and Harris that makes the movie work so well. With her quirky dress-sense and striking looks, Harris’s Nina could easily be played up as just another manic-pixie-dream-girl type, but she is as dynamic and complex as Lyle, who is severely flawed but never so much that he himself turns into a caricature of a stoner.
The film, which employed the use of the popular crowdfunding site Kickstarter to finish production, is clearly a labor of love, and one definitely worth seeing.
Phase 4 Films will open the crowd-pleaser on September 18, 2013, at Film Forum theaters in New York City.
It’s also screening at BAMcinemaFest this month, in Brooklyn, NY.
Zeba Blay is a Ghanaian-born film and culture writer based in New York. She is a contributor to Huffington Post, Africa Style Daily, and Slant Magazine. She co-hosts the weekly podcast Two Brown Girls, and runs a personal movie blog, Film Memory. Follow her on Twitter @zblay.