Did male bonding exist before the buddy movie, or is it a byproduct? Sure, men were friends before Lethal Weapon and the Rush Hour series, but did men realise what being buddies entailed? Did men make dick and fart in the 1950s in the knowledge that they were sublimating their true feelings for one another? Was a gun ever really just a gun for John Wayne? …Ok, so maybe a gun was a gun for The Duke, but in the new “pot comedy” from the Judd Apatow stable, all the AK47s in the world can’t obscure the gay subtext. Pineapple Express is crude, violent and shallow as hell, but its male leads seem like they’d make a nice couple.
Ostensibly this is a revival of the stoner comedies of the 1970s. Seth Rogen plays a schlub with one suit and a pot habit who inadvertently witnesses a murder. The murder victim is a plot contrivance, but the murderer is a guy who sells pot to Seth’s pot dealer. Seth has a problem in that he’s left his joint at the murder scene. Said joint contains a strain of marijuana the murderer has sold only to Seth’s dealer. Going on the lamb while half-baked might not be the smartest of options, but it’s the funniest option. So with affable pot dealer James Franco in tow, Seth takes the Butch & Sundance route to glory by firstly running away.
If there’s an ambitious man who comes off lazier than Seth Rogen, he must be literally sleeping his way to the top. Rogen acts like he’s been hit with the script. He shaves like he can’t afford a mirror. And yet… despite his bulk, despite his dyspeptic baby facial expressions, he is, unquestionably, a successful actor. In Pineapple Express he plays the same guy he played in The 40 Year Old Virgin, Knocked Up and Superbad (a grouchy, vulnerable, basically decent human, who comes off crude to keep the world from eating him alive), and despite a mountain of reasons you should resent him for his lethargy; his is a winning persona. There’s a great scene in Pineapple Express, where Rogen (“high as a f—ing kite”) attempts to rescue his girlfriend’s family from a pair of hit-men, and somehow Rogen’s shear uselessness is sweet; as if absence of malice were vouchsafed by being a doofus.
James Franco – who’s been waiting on a break since Spiderman gave him nothing – finds his Fight Club in Pineapple Express. You remember who Brad Pitt was before Fight Club? (The preteen pin-up; the guy who tried too hard…) Franco hasn’t quite found a role as explosive as Pitt, but in the same way not washing for a month gave Pitt free-reign; when Franco gets high, he finally starts to register. Dressed like a thrift-store gypsy; radiating sex from every pore, Franco smiles and its like he’s woken up to a supermodel. There’s a dissonance at first in pairing a GQ guy like Franco with a Wendy’s employee like Rogen, but then you realise (as the movie never quite wants to admit) that Franco is in love with Rogen, and suddenly it’s the whole cute girl/schlubby guy dynamic that powers Judd Apatow movies, only with Franco as the girl and Rogen avoiding eye-contact like crazy.
Pineapple Express isn’t the last word in buddy movies, or even the last word in action pics that are two steps away from gay porn (hello anything featuring Vin Diesel), but it breathes life into the genre because, in this case, a puff is sufficient (we’re not talking about reviving screwball comedy here). Buddy movies are a perennial. As long as men would rather scatological humour over meaningful discourse, as long as guys see no contradiction in fixating on genitals at the same time as living in horror of being gay… the buddy movie – that closeted, immature, bastard son of Butch & Sundance – will endure. Growing up we’ll leave to the 50s.