I’ve mentioned this film a number of times in the blog but I only realized a couple entries ago that I’ve never actually written about it.
The Harold & Kumar series is such a bizarre one. Its releases are so scattered and unpredictable that it screams ‘cult classic’, as if the only thing bringing it back time and again is the affection of its key participants for their roles and of its loyal audience. Had this franchise struck during the Judd Apatow / Seth Rogen era of comedies, it might have received just as many entries, in about a six-year time span, and then maybe more beyond that.
Instead, though, we get a stoner movie from before marijuana was so widely accepted in our media and in our culture; a movie led by a racially diverse cast before that was so widely accepted in our media and our culture, which begat an irreverent, quasi-political sequel just at the tail end of the administration whose enthusiasm for torture and offshore prisons it was sending up. Then, after one of its stars worked in the White House, a sudden Christmas sequel, and possible last entry in a series no one could have predicted from cradle to grave.
Its audience has grown up over the 7 years between first and last films. Can this sort of post-Farrelly Brothers style of humor hold up now that we’re in our 30s and 40s, matured, with careers, families, and less time to get high? Now that our political and social sensitivities have shifted so?
Ironically perhaps, that is largely what the movie is about, and it’s all the better for it. While not particularly deep, these characters and what depth and likability they have is the entire reason the series ever thrived. Where the first film had Kal Penn’s Kumar forcing John Cho’s Harold to loosen up and realize that some things are more important than work, we now find our duo in their mid-30s, learning about what really matters to grown men: family and responsibility. And still smoking weed, but just less weed. A reasonable amount of weed.
This is one of those films come back to every few years and use as a sort of barometer for whether I have outgrown my old tastes, or whether things are as trivial and sophomoric as I remember them being. And as is often the case, I find, joyfully, that I still like this movie an awful lot. In fact, as I was writing up my list of pros and cons, I only had one con, beside a great field of pros. I’ll adress that con presently so we can acknowledge it and move along, but again, I must remark how pleasant it is to come upon a movie like this and find it still holds up, both as a Christmas film, and as a comedy. Particularly after this season’s Exploratory Endeavor has been full of so much garbage.
If you aren’t familiar with the film, you may have noticed the “3D” in the title above, and therein is my only real criticism for the movie. 3D was a fad in the 80s, a fad in the 90s, and a fad in the early 2010s. It never stuck around, it was never the future of filmgoing, and it always leaves an indelible, poorly-aging mark on the movies which chose to center themselves around it.
We can be thankful then that this movie is not wholly centered around 3D. The effect is only ever used with a tongue planted firmly in-cheek, and sometimes it is even funny. The filmmakers knew what kind of threat was posed to their movie’s longevity if they went too hard on the 3D shit, and wisely chose to make it a joke rather than a real feature.
The entire production has a “they don’t make ’em this way anymore” feeling to it, which is funny to say about a movie released in 2011. But there is a high-production quality that many movies don’t even bother with anymore. The score, while nothing to write home about, is Christmasy in the extreme, and there are wonderfully thoughtful folly effects throughout. It all comes together in moments such as a giant, magical joint being flicked out an open window–cue the 3D effect as it crosses the path of the camera and the music swells with Elfmanesque giddiness, before another window opens, the joint flies back into the home, and lands with a cartoonish “thwip” sound effect among the flammable (and well distributed!) branches of a 12-foot Fraser fir.
As for the plot, as mentioned the characters are all grown up now, and miserable in their own ways. Harold has success, but sees himself become the villain on Wall St. with everyman protestors below who resemble the workaday schmuck he once was. He wants a baby with his wife, but creating his own family won’t win him acceptance into hers–Danny Trejo’s father-in-law character is the obstacle to that victory. And Harold hasn’t seen Kumar in years, for as he grew up and moved forward, Kumar festered in the echoes of his selfish, juvenile decision-making that so plagued him in the first two movies. Kumar has been in a depressive slump since Vanessa left him, presumably over this inability to grow up.
What’s more, both Harold and Kumar are lying to themselves about the worthiness of their new best friends, and the writers made some great choices here. Harold’s new friend, played by Thomas Lennon (who adds value to any film in which he appears), is the picture of the dad Harold might someday be: neurotic, obnoxious, well-intentioned but devoid of any masculinity or personality outside his role as a father.
Kumar, by contrast, is suffering a friend who is obnoxious in the opposite way: immature and party-minded, his motormouth friend is useless for anything but conversation about the women he’s had sex with, or intends to have sex with. He is a reflection of the caliber of person Kumar may be damning himself to be. Where character growth is concerned, this is largely Kumar’s movie, and all the better for it as he had farther to come in a series about growth and the weight of priorities.
Harold & Kumar films would be nothing without their Homeric side characters, and the choice to bring back Neil Patrick Harris was brilliant. In fact, he gives his most delightfully depraved performance of the trilogy here. There are other great side characters to encounter, and some funny cameos of familiar favorites as well.
The complete package here, and the point I suppose I’m making, is that this is a whole movie, and not a holiday phone-in. This isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but as trilogies go, in any genre, it is rare for all three entries to be solid. If there was one place where they would have been expected to drop the ball, it would of course have been the third entry, a Christmas film. And yet, they didn’t. They made a comedy which works well on its own terms, as part of a beloved if childish trilogy, and as a Christmas movie no one would blame you for putting on year after year (assuming they’re like, cool, though, you know?).
My last note is this: I have at times spoken of my low tolerance for robot sidekicks. That is not true of Wafflebot. Wafflebot is funny and adorable, and a major highlight of this movie. He is the hero we need, but not the hero we deserve.
For all its silliness and toilet humor, this film is very near the top of my Christmas list on Letterboxd, and it is a joy to revisit every time. You could do a lot worse than this one at Christmastime, even if slapstick isn’t your thing.
For that reason, I’m giving this movie a Holiday-Adjusted Christmas Scale rating of 8 out of 10 and calling it Good.