Ron Slater in “Dazed and Confused”
From Parson Weems to Antonin Scalia, everyone remakes the founding fathers in their own image, and Rory Cochrane’s Ron Slater is no exception. The kid with the distinction of being “the stoner” in a Texas high school full of pot-smokers, Slater, at a party at the moon tower during our Bicentennial year, lays down his vision of America 200 years earlier (“The whole country was getting high”), and of George and Martha Washington in particular (“Every day George would come home, she’d have a big fat bowl waiting for him, man. She was a hip hip hip lady.”). Perhaps because Richard Linklater’s “Dazed and Confused” feels so authentic, Slater feels the most authentic stoner on this list. He’s still got some Wimpy-esque wit about him (“I can pay you, like, Tuesday and s--t”), and if you’re building a bong in shop class he’s the guy to go to for advice. But there’s a sadness and loneliness about him, too. He’s hanging with jocks who don’t respect him. He laments the loss of the girls a class ahead. And he never gets to ride shotgun. Most stoners sink into lethargy, but as the evening winds down, Slater, jazzed, almost spazzy, is the one who keeps the party going. He knows he’s comic relief, but I think, inside, through the haze, he’s on a search for his own hip hip hip lady.
The Dude in “The Big Lebowski”
Because the stoner life looks pretty sad on anyone past age 30, and because the essence of a stoner is non-action — light up and drift back — most of the characters on this list are both young and in supporting roles. Who wants a sad old lead who does nothing? The exception is The Dude, Jeff Bridges’ glorious turn in the Coen brothers’ now classic “The Big Lebowski,” and it only works because The Dude is acted upon by everyone. From Jeff Lebowski using The Dude as a scapegoat in a kidnapping scheme, to Maude Lebowski wanting his sperm, to Walter Sobchak and his visceral need to shout his smarts into the ears of a deaf world (“Amateurs, Dude”), everyone seems to have an ulterior motive. The Dude just wants his carpet back. He’s a true innocent, and from the opening scene, in a robe in a grocery store, writing a check for 67 cents, no one hangs loose better. While the world thrashes, the Dude abides. And all in the middle of a bowling tournament, too.
Jeff Spicoli in “Fast Times at Ridgemont High”
You can tell how good an actor Sean Penn is by comparing his performance as Jeff Spicoli, the original stoner-surfer, to that of his two buds in the film, Anthony Edwards and Eric Stoltz, both of whom have had long successful careers, and both of whom were up for Spicoli. Penn blows them away. It’s not even close. In their first scene, stripping off shirts and pooling their resources at the All-American Burger, there’s a weight to Spicoli’s airheadedness (“I got uno nicklette”) that make his partners seem light and disposable. He’s the most affable of stoners, friendly across the entire range of cliques at Ridgemont High, and happy just to know that dude, or that song, or the fact that that guy used to work over there. He also prefigures “The Simpsons” in his commitment to the bit. When Mr. Hand asks him, “Why do you shamelessly waste my time like this?” here’s his response. Pause. Pause. Pause. “I don’t know.” At the same time, for all that affability, there’s a hint of something dangerous in his eyes when Mr. Hand tears up his schedule. “Hey bud, what’s your problem?” he says. It’s a sign of the direction Penn would go.
Floyd in “True Romance”
Worst roommate ever. He doesn’t get the mail, doesn’t get the door, uses up the last of the toilet paper. And he never leaves. The other guys on this list get out once in a while, play some pinball, bowl some games. Brad Pitt’s Floyd can’t muster the energy. He just sits, stoned, watching bad movies (“Freejack”) on TV. He’s also not really your friendly neighborhood stoner. Pitt gives us a sense of someone for whom the world moves too fast, and that, in turn, makes him confused and angry. He mutters after Dick Ritchie yanks the phone away from him. He mutters after James Gandolfini leaves: “Condescending to me, man.” Compare this with the obvious pride he shows when he can actually answer someone’s question. “Do you live here?” Gandolfini asks. “Yes, I do,” he responds slowly and proudly. But my favorite moment is Pitt’s stoned, awestruck reaction shot when Blue Lou Boyle’s men crowd into his apartment, weapons drawn. He knows he’s either got the greatest high ever going — or that life might actually be interesting enough to stay sober for.
Harold and Kumar in “Harold and Kumar Go To White Castle”
No Cheech and Chong? No Wyatt and Billy in “Easy Rider”? Yeah, I know. To be honest, I couldn’t get through any movies by the former and I never found the latter characters interesting. Besides, if you’re looking for America, H & K (John Cho and Kal Penn) are it. They’re also not, in the strictest sense, “stoners”; they’re recreational users. The rest of these characters, for all of their entertainment value, are cautionary tales out of the Nancy Reagan school: people whose lives have been or probably will be stunted by drugs. H & K? One’s an accountant, the other’s a medical genius. After getting stoned, they drive around New Jersey in search of sliders, and 1) save a life, 2) crunch the necessary numbers, 3) meet Neil Patrick Harris, 4) bust out of jail, 5) stand up to the extreme sports dudes, 6) stand up to the office dweebs, 7) get the girl of their dreams, and, of course, finally, 8) wolf down some burgers. Not a bad night for our latest incarnation of Felix and Oscar.