HOMEGROWN(director: Stephen Gyllenhaal; screenwriters: original story by Jonah Raskin/Stephen Gyllenhaal/Nicholas Kazan; cinematographer: Greg Gardiner; editor: Michael Jablow; cast: Billy Bob Thornton (Jack), Hank Azaria (Carter), Kelly Lynch (Lucy), Jon Bon Jovi (Danny), Ryan Phillippe (Harlan), Judge Reinhold (Policeman), Matt Ross (Ben Hickson), Matt Clark (Sheriff), Ted Danson (Gianni), John Lithgow (Malcolm/Robert), Jamie Lee Curtis (Sierra Kahan), Jon Tenney (Pilot); Runtime: 101; Sony Pictures Entertainment; 1998)
“Homegrown is a lovable off-the-wall film.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Homegrown is a lovable off-the-wall film that, probably, very few have seen or even heard about. That might be because the film goes off on so many different directions–from murder to counter-culture romance–before it zeroes into the hippie drug-dealing scene as it evolved from the ’60s to what it is today. This makes it a too controversial topic for Sony to know how to advertise and release to theaters.
Its highly animated story is both funny and suspenseful, with a good deal of its plot made up of the kind of material reserved for a sociologist who is writing a treatise on why certain types of people must be outlaws; the director’s aim was to make a take-off on The Treasure of the Sierra Madre theme, but this time with a stoned-out foursome lured by the possibility of making 3 million dollars through growing and dealing marijuana.
A lot of the big-name stars in the film must have seen the merits of this enterprise, because their cameo appearances and the small amount of money they received for being in the film indicates that this was strictly a labor of love for them.
Three growers of the weed, bumblers living in the woods of a northern California town, Jack (Thornton), Carter (Azaria), and Harlan (Ryan Phillippe), witness their boss Malcolm (Lithgow), getting shot as he gets off a helicopter to see them during the harvest season. The three, in a state of confusion, run back to the plantation and cut down enough marijuana plants to compensate themselves for their lost wages, too afraid to stay around and take more. They hide out at the house of Lucy (Lynch), a dealer for Malcolm, who is Carter’s ex-girlfriend (she still sleeps with him; she will also sleep later on with the much younger Harlan).
To get some cash the boys sell to a local dealer, Danny (Bon Jovi), while pretending Malcolm is still alive (they don’t even tell Lucy that Malcolm is dead). The boys go back to the plantation expecting the crop to have been taken. But when it isn’t touched, they wheel and deal for themselves. Their aim is to sell to all of Malcolm’s customers who have never seen him, with Jack pretending to be Malcolm. The greed of making 3 million dollars from the drugs becomes their driving force, overcoming their fears.
The boys make face-to-face drug exchanges, getting all their contacts from Malcolm’s black book as they try to unload their dope cache.
Jack pretends to be Malcolm on the phone without knowing who he is talking to, which will get him a meeting with a Mafia figure who thinks he is at last to meet Malcolm. Jack mistakenly and comically calls this maniacal figure Johnny when his name is Gianni (Danson) as they try to get things straight about the business deal the real Malcolm made, which is the source of all the problems Malcolm has with the local dealers.
The story clearly shows how love and peace are no longer the rallying cry among the drug harvesters, as guns are a regular part of their dress code; but most of all, the story understood how the close-knit community of marijuana growers operate and prosper. They celebrate their business skills at the annual harvest party, where Sierra (Jamie Lee Curtis) gives a speech to the other growers that could have been delivered to any corporation in America as she decries the need for the growers to remember the integrity and spirit they had when they first started.
What this film failed to do was go into any depth about why these people do what they do (for the money is not enough of a reason) and how pervasive was their illegal business on the economy of small towns in that region of California. It therefore left a very cloudy message about what is a serious matter concerning the whole drug culture. It was a much clearer film to evaluate, if viewed as an enjoyable dark comedy.
It is a well-written, acted and directed film. It is often disarmingly brilliant, getting right in the face of an outlaw lifestyle that is both dangerous and beautiful for those who have chosen it as a career. It does this better than any other film I have seen in recent times that attempted to tackle this sort of material. The implied message is: the government’s drug policy is just not working.
REVIEWED ON 7/9/99 GRADE: B+
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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