Homegrown (1998)

reviewed by
Dennis Schwartz

HOMEGROWN (director: Stephen Gyllenhaal; writers: Stephen Gyllenhaal/Nicholas Kazan; cinematographer: Greg Gardiner; 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), 1998)

Homegrown is a lovable off-the-wall film that, probably, very few people 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 hippy drug dealing scene as it evolved from the '60s to what it is today, which makes it a too controversial topic for Sony to know how to advertise and release to theaters. This is a film that you will probably only get a chance to see on cable or video. 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 who are living in the woods of a Northern California town, Jack (Thornton), Carter (Azaria), and Harlan (Ryan Phillippe), witness their boss, Malcolm (Lithgow), as he gets off a helicopter to see them during the harvest season and immediately get shot by the pilot (Tenney). 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), who is Carter's ex-girlfriend (she still sleeps with him; she will also sleep with the much younger Harlan), without telling her what went down; she is superbly cast as a jaded hippie, working as a drug distributor for Malcolm.

To get some cash, the boys sell to a local dealer, Danny (Bon Jovi), while pretending Malcolm is still alive; and, then decide to go back to the plantation expecting the crop to have been taken. But when it isn't touched, they decide to 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 for the crop becomes their driving force, which is a somewhat similar theme to what occurred in A Simple Plan.

Screw-ups follow the boys' business decisions, as their operation calls for them to make one-on-one drug exchanges, while the ones not in on the deal hide themselves in a spot where they cannot be spotted, watching the deal take place while remaining undercover.

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 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 is able to show how they prospered and psychologically feared outsiders coming into their well-run operation, which included police bribes and annual get-togethers to celebrate their business skills. At the annual harvest party, 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. But don't be mislead by what I just said. This is a well-written and acted and directed film, that is often disarmingly brilliant, getting right in the face of an outlaw lifestyle that is both dangerous and beautiful. 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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