(Z To A is an ongoing series: cumulative reviews of my DVD collection in reverse alphabetical order.)
Plot Synopsis: This film tells the tale of the “Harper Affair,” in which young Jimmy Harper (Christian Campbell) finds his life of promise turn into a life of debauchery and murder thanks to the new drug menace marijuana. Along the way he receives help from his girlfriend Mary (Kristen Bell) and Jesus himself, but always finds himself in the arms of the Reefer Man and the rest of the denizens of the Reefer Den.
– From Reefer Madness: The Movie Musical‘s IMDB page
While working at Blue Mountain Center I was given the task of organizing the residency’s collection of DVDs and videotapes. Most of the collection was documentaries related to the filmmakers and activists who had stayed there over the years. There were also classic films like The Third Man (1949) or obscure stuff like Lulu In Berlin (1984).
Then there was Reefer Madness: The Movie Musical, one of the few DVDs I found lying around in the farmhouse. It was unlike anything else in the stacks of tapes I had sorted through. Curiosity got the best of me and I took it back to my room to watch it that night. I returned it the next day. Then, a few days later, still stunned with what I had seen (“Seriously, what the hell was that? Was it even real?”) I watched it again. You know, just to make sure I wasn’t crazy.
This is how Madness became one of my favorite musicals, up there with Saturday’s Warrior (1989), Cannibal! The Musical (1993), Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007) and Doctor Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog (2008). As you can see, the kind of musicals I like aren’t the usual. This movie was perfect for me.
To break down just how unbelievably wacky Madness would be exhaustive. When I talk to people about it I usually say, “I can’t tell you what that movie is like. You have to watch it to understand.”
For example, the film opens with a small town meeting at a local school. A mysterious Lecturer (Alan Cumming) begins the proceedings, shocking his audience with statistics about how terrible marijuana is. Then he begins to sing. So does everyone else. Then zombies show up and begin to eat people.
This is just the first five minutes, people. Not lying.
The heart of the movie is the “educational film” the lecturer is showing to the parents, a story about Jimmy Harper (Campbell) and his downfall after smoking a joint one afternoon. He reacts by becoming a complete spazz, which is how the original Reefer Madness portrayed the drug. He has violent mood swings, humps random objects and can’t control his motor skills. He also loses his sense of morality within seconds because, yeah, marijuana totally does that too. He cheats on his girlfriend Mary (Bell), steals from churches and runs over an old man with his car. He even rejects Christ when he gets a personal visit from the guy. “I have a new God now!” he proclaims, and Satan (yes, Satan is in this movie) promptly does a spit take all over the place.
In the meantime Mary is completely puzzled by Jimmy’s bizarre behavior, but for the most part she is just really cute. After all she is played by Kristen Bell, one of the most adored people on the internet. I agree when it comes to this role. She is so unfailingly cute it threatens to crush your brain, especially when she begins to sing about things being softer than “pillows stuffed with bunnies” or “sweeter than Shirley Temple pudding.”
Here’s a sample of said cuteness:
Seriously. Really cute.
But hey, since this is a drug exploitation movie Mary has to fall from grace or become an example, so Madness decides to do both, all through the magic of song and dance. Mary takes a few puffs off a joint and immediately goes bonkers, attacking one of Jimmy’s drug pals, Ralph (John Kassir), then dethrones A Clockwork Orange (1971) with the most ridiculous songs/sexual assaults ever captured on film.
Okay, at this point you might feel like I’ve already given too much away, but believe me- this is just one of many “WTF” moments in this musical. If you can get your hands on a copy, just watch it. I haven’t really ruined anything. There is much, much more.
On top of this I have to point out another aspect of Madness that impressed me: you can tell that everyone is working their asses off. There’s singing, dancing, stunts and so much (skillful) overacting you think the actors must have passed out at the end of each day. The ensemble backing Cumming, Campbell and Bell are beyond impressive and game for anything: Ana Gasteyer, Amy Spanger, Robert Torti, Steven Weber and Kassir.
Out of the group I have to single out Gasteyer, who is known for her work on SNL. She is so intentionally terrible that it’s redefines “bad acting.” There’s a scene where she walks away from a broken window in the most unnatural way I’ve ever seen. She also brings panache to some of the most hilarious lines ever written into a show tune: “Sometimes he’s rough / He throws me down the stairs / But deep inside he cares / He buys me lingerie.”
However, at the end of the day the film belongs to Jimmy and Mary, who are probably the silliest Romeo and Juliet of all time:
It’s a story of young love that has to be seen to be believed.
I recommend it. Get your hands on a copy and watch it, preferably in the company of friends and whatever refreshments you choose.