Ana Gasteyer, on a promotional tour of her new Showtime original movie-musical, Reefer Madness, hit UM Thursday night. The Cinematic Arts Commission, part of Hurricane Productions, brought the free screening at Cosford Theatre to UM.
The film, which takes place in the 1930s, is a spoof on a wildly inaccurate anti-marijuana propaganda film from the same decade, of the same name. “[This version is] part camp, part horror, and part movie-musical, with slight political undertones, depending on who’s watching,” explained Gasteyer. The film is a movie within a movie; within a film lecture for parents of a small, American town is the story that chronicles the fall of Jimmy Harper (Christian Campbell), a 16-year-old who wants nothing more than to learn to dance for his squeaky-clean sweetheart, Mary Lane (Kristen Bell). Seduced by Jack Stone (Steven Weber), a smooth-talking pot-pusher, Jimmy spirals into “reefer madness,” and suffers his fair share of trouble.
Gasteyer, best known to the UM population for her six years on Saturday Night Live and recently as Lindsay Lohan’s mom in Mean Girls, plays Mae Coleman, the girlfriend of Jack and hostess of Reefer Den, the smoky, sinful home of drug-seduction in Reefer Madness. “She’s an addict with a heart of gold,” Gasteyer said of her character. “She’s down on her luck and takes a wrong turn for guys. She’s very maternal, as seen by her actions with Jimmy [the young, conflicted hero]and the younger drug addicts.”
With its 16 musical numbers, Reefer Madness is one of the most complicated musicals to ever be filmed for television. Gasteyer, who is no stranger to musicals, had to develop her fair share of challenging skills for her role, for which she spent a considerable amount of time spattered in prosthetic blood.
“[The bloodwork] was annoying. I was covered in corn syrup for about three weeks, which was like being covered in pancake syrup. I was tap-dancing, so I’d sweat, and my hair would turn into cotton candy while I was wearing this horrible polyester dress,” she said. “It was pretty miserable, but it’s better than a fat suit!”
Gasteyer also did most of her stunt work, which involved what she described as “funky bowstaff work in ’30s period costumes and glamour makeup and hair.”
Originally a music major in college, Gasteyer has taken on musical roles on SNL and the stage, but the pressure of filming a musical was one of the obstacles she had to overcome. “I was working under extreme conditions: 14-hour workdays, choreography on weekends, and we had to lay down the music first,” she explained. “It was harder than SNL in a daily way because there was a lot to be covered, but that’s what made it great.”
As a musical, Reefer Madness charms its audience with its intentionally cheesy dancing and lyrics. The songs, such as the opening number, “Reefer Madness,” which features Alan Cumming, of Josie and the Pussycats and Romy and Michelle’s High School Reunion, as “The Lecturer” are catchy and well performed. His scenes, which are in black and white, punctuate the Technicolor scenes of the actual plotline.
Early, idyllic scenes of the movie are straight out of a hybrid of Pleasantville and Bye Bye Birdie with the boyishly charming, dimpled Campbell’s portrayal of Jimmy and Bell’s angelic blonde ringlets, bright eyes, and crystal-clear soprano that bring Mary to life. “Down at the Ol’ Five and Dime,” a dance number in the malt shop run by Miss Poppy (Neve Campbell in too-small role for all her wrinkle-your-nose glory), the young couple effectively captures the innocence of their pre-reefer town.
Reefer Den, Gasteyer’s realm within the film, is replete with unsavory characters from the wiley, absuve Jack to the Animal House-esque, doped-up frat boy Ralph, complete with bloodshot eyes and a maniacal laugh. Here, the audience also meets Sally, the sultry seductress of Reefer Den who hooks Jimmy on pot with her sexual allure. The roles of Sally and Mae are reminiscent of the great female screen heroines of the 1930s. “They were great, archetypal roles,” said Gasteyer.
Gasteyer takes Mae, one of the secondary characters of the film, and easily uses finely honed comic genius to transform her into easily the most hilarious, memorable role. Her breathy voice builds its strength through her song, “The Stuff” to finally reach a crescendo as she belts, “The fun escapes me / When Jack gets stoned and rapes me!” out the window of her home, which the audience met with laughs.
Reefer Madness is replete in its unconventional irreverence. Everything is in here, from a loincloth-clad, Tom Jones-like Jesus with a harem of angel-harlots to an S & M scene that makes the brazen sexuality of Rocky Horror pale in comparison. Unfortunately, “everything” includes way too many scenes of male posteriors. While this is Miami, where Speedos and thongs rule on South Beach, the butt-cheek overload of several scenes of Reefer Madness drew cringes from the audience. The kitschiness and purposely over-the-top 1930s dialogue are artfully done in this film, but the contemporary audience, at least that of the college-age set, will eventually grow tired of a movie that requires so much appreciation of the culture of a virtually unknown decade.
As a campy, part-horror film, Reefer Madness was bound to be full of blood and gore, but after a while, the zombie-like pot-fiends get downright disgusting, especially with Ralph’s cannibalistic case of the munchies that ends with a half-eaten Sally. With the combination of the booty-overload and gross factor, Reefer Madness starts to feel as if it will last longer than the first drag on a fat joint.
All in all, while the film showcases its cast’s unmistakable musical and comedic talent, Reefer Madness is best as what it is marketed as: a made-for-cable-TV movie. While the stage production enjoyed a lengthy run in Los Angeles, most cities will not be ready for the shocks that the show is sure to bring. With a specialized cable television audience, Reefer Madness is likely to experience the same success and may even grow to become a Rocky Horror-esque cult classic, but don’t tune to Showtime on April 16 if sodomy, blood-spatters and jungle orgies are too much too handle.
As for Gasteyer, look for her next as Elphaba in this summer’s Chicago production of Wicked, the saga of The Wizard of Oz’s Wicked Witch of the West.
Hannah Bae can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.