Review: Grass (Chopra, 2016) – CAAMFest 2016


Cam (Emily Chang) and Jinky (Pia Shah, former CAAM Media Fund Director) are in a park. And, for the course of the hour-long movie, they never leave that park. They have a backpack full of weed that Cam’s fiancé Austin has asked her to deliver for him. Cam, a responsible Ph.D. student who has never delivered drugs before, has enlisted her old friend Jinky to help her, but Jinky is more interested in smoking the weed than transporting it.

So they smoke the weed. And then they have experiences–experiences that anyone who has ever been high before, which, of course, is not me, might recognize: they get the munchies, they say stupid things that sound wise (or is it wise things that sound stupid?), they befriend some bicycle-riding “friendly travelers,” they talk about serious topics such as why Cam’s fiancé of two-and-a-half years, who may have forgotten that he proposed, might not be the right man for her, and they have epiphanies, maybe.

Here is a movie that should easily pass the Bechdel-Wallace test, right? The leads are two named women, and the whole film is them talking to each other. Do they talk about anything besides men? Well…yes: ordering pizza, sharing a sandwich, getting rich, testing the weed. There’s also the mostly unspoken subtext of Cam and Jinky’s floundering friendship. But their main substantive topic–and the film’s emotional locus–is Cam’s hollow relationship with her comically dependent fiancé Austin, which, aside from Cam’s protracted description of Austin’s inability to empty his own electric razor, feels like a dull and well-worn subject.

Of the two actresses, Shah offers the more natural and fluid performance. Chang seems a little less used to acting in humorous roles–which is maybe just another way of saying she’s not as funny. Or it could just be that her line-toeing pushover of a character isn’t as ripe for comedic plundering. (Cam is certainly more of a stereotype than Jinky, a woman of perhaps South Asian descent who works in her father’s store and never attended college.)

Good comedies are either so hilarious that you don’t care that they aren’t really about anything, or they are about something and use comedy as a vehicle to get you to care. Unfortunately, director Tanuj Chopra‘s Grass is neitherIt’s not funny or varied enough to earn even its scant 60-minute playing time, and it doesn’t realize the potential of what could have been a very interesting exploration of Cam and Jinky’s friendship. Instead it plays as a pretty light and repetitive movie where two friends get stoned in a park, and one, with the help of her partner and the “vague clarity” that weed provides, makes the “right” (i.e., predictable, inevitable) choice about her man.

Still, it’s refreshing to see two Asian female leads in an almost feature-length film. It’s no Harold and Kumar, but maybe a couple more of these and we’ll get there.