‘Newlyweeds,’ both an ode and cautionary tale about the joys and pitfalls of pot-smoking


Nina (Trae Harris) and Lyle (Amari Cheatom) enjoy a pastime that takes turns into the wasted, paranoid and criminal, but never gets too heavy, in “Newlyweeds.” (Phase 4 Films)
September 27, 2013

“Newlyweeds” isn’t for everyone. A film billed as a cool stoner dramedy, it arrives wrapped in a haze of marijuana smoke, as much a tribute to getting “wild blazed” as it is a cautionary tale about the wages of addiction. Rough around the edges, its schematic plot often awkwardly obvious, this fish-nor-fowl hybrid may be too morally serious to qualify as a bona fide Midnight Movie cult hit, and too inside-dope to appeal to anyone who isn’t well versed (if not thoroughly immersed) in pot culture.

The audience “Newlyweeds” will appeal to most is film buffs who are always on the lookout for bright young things — because this movie has them. The wispy premise of “Newlyweeds,” written and directed by Shaka King, is kept afloat by its attractive, youthfully vital cast (along with some well-timed comic relief by way of some familiar faces).

Amari Cheatom plays Lyle, a Brooklyn repo man living with his gorgeous, cosmopolitan girlfriend, Nina (newcomer Trae Harris), and spending his days casing his clients, taking back appliances they haven’t paid for, then retiring for a quiet evening smoking up and letting go.

It’s a mellow existence, but Nina — who punctuates her days as a museum docent with a steady stream of furtive tokes — wants more. “Newlyweeds” follows Lyle and Nina as their partying pastime takes turns into the wasted, paranoid and criminal, never getting too heavy, often achieving antic hilarity, but never entirely taking its focus from how the recreational can turn debilitatingly toxic.

Harris makes an impressive screen debut here, and Cheatom — heretofore seen in supporting roles — proves a handsomely scruffy leading man. Isiah Whitlock Jr. has a funny jailhouse scene and Colman Domingo, currently onscreen in “Lee Daniels’ The Butler” as the White House majordomo, is note-perfect in a scene-bogarting turn as a hash-slinging sophisticate.

“Newlyweeds” doesn’t always navigate its tonal hiccups with ease, and it bears the low-fi imprint of myriad low-budget, shoestring productions. But it’s part of an interesting trend — along with the James Ponsoldt films “Smashed” and “The Spectacular Now” — of films that offer glimpses of Millennium Generation ambivalence regarding substance use and abuse. Like those films, albeit in a far more modest way, “Newlyweeds” announces a promising new filmmaking talent.

★★½

R. At Regal Majestic 20. Contains drug use throughout, pervasive profanity, some sexual references and brief violent images. 87 minutes.

Ann Hornaday is The Post's movie critic.
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