Austin American-Statesman Review
D: Lee Skaife, Loch Phlllipps; with Craig Addams, Ben Phillipps, Konrad Aderer, Paul Williams, Lucy Snowe, Aaron Alpern.
"Sitting around thinking is good," says one of the characters in "Use Your Head," a curious little film that glimpses into the stoned consciousness of three pairs of subjects imbibing U.S. government marijuana in a scientific study of pot smoking. "You don't even think thoughts. It's actually like they think you." Such elliptical logic is the relevant data extracted from this experiment.
But don't think "Use Your Head" is a pot movie. Rather, it's a film about six seemingly everyday people who, once they are lubricated by a clinically controlled highball of marijuana and alcohol, reveal the quirky workings of human thoughts and emotions.
And what a fascinating jumble it all is: childhood memories, secret paranoias, silly thoughts with seemingly profound undertones ("What makes Applejacks a girls' cereal?" ponders one person), the big echoes in little daily interactions - the offhand stuff that says so much if you can scratch away the mundane dust covering what appears to be casual conversation.
Directed by the husband-and-wife team of Loch Phillipps and Lee Skaife, "Use Your Head" is much like an experimental piece of theater. The spine of the action - or maybe better, lack thereof - takes place in a plain, badly painted room where the six study subjects come once a week, in pairs of two, to toke, sip and talk while an impassive research assistant monitors their behavior. It's as if these folks are waiting for Godot, or maybe just waiting for something, and getting a buzz on in the process.
It's a movie that is driven by dialogue, yet the filmmakers also display a deft visual sense, especially in their ability to frame and explore the striking character, lines and tics that make up the human face. "Use Your Head" shows how six people can get a bit stoned, and then start to really dig themselves, as we used to say back in the '60s.
There's Moss and Kellen, two guys who would be sitting around toking, drinking, munching snacks and watching the tube even if it weren't for the cause of science. There's Duncan and Sara, he the lumbering lunkhead, and she the classic secret neurotic. As well, we watch Dave the African American buppie and Konrad the inner-city slacker as their values and lifestyles rub up against each other like two sheets of sandpaper with very different grains.
As their thoughts and conversations meander, the moviegoer floats out of the study room into the subjects' lives, and also burrows into the souls of people they might not even give a second glance to if they passed on the street. Like an existentialist play it's a film where nothing much seems to happen, yet there's a whole lot going' on.
As such, the one flaw with this endeavor might be its need for a judicious trimming. Like a stoned rap, "Use Your Head" sometimes meanders, yet the cumulative effect is as much a mood inducing tactic as it is a downfall. That's the only quibble one might have with an otherwise modest yet smart bit of film-making.
"Use Your Head" eschews the silly hippie jokes or hipster proselytizing one might expect from a film where marijuana is the fuel that fires the dramatic boiler. It treats pot with a totally neutral attitude (except perhaps when one subject carps about the low THC count of the government-grown joints), which feels especially refreshing in these days when we're urged to dare to keep ourselves and our loved ones from taking a toke. What it is instead is a surprisingly incisive glimpse at regular folks whose casual miens are just a curtain hiding a bubbling cauldron of sometimes funny, sometimes confused, often touching, and always very human energies, thoughts and emotions.
It's distinctive cinema with a sharply written screenplay and performances that play so seamlessly it's almost as if they aren't being acted. As one of the principals here notes, "It's hard not to look stupid at least part of the time." If ever there was a movie that thinks out loud, and then even thinks over what it was thinking, it's "Use Your Head.