When scanning the web one evening for good stoner flicks to marathon on a lazy Friday night, one question began rattling in my brain: Where are the ladies in all of these stoner buddy flicks? The stoner genre itself is essentially defined by the buddy trope–best friends battle ludicrous obstacles whilst either super high or looking to get super high–with a few quality exceptions in the vein of Dazed and Confused or Half Baked. And as I scrambled to come up with even one mainstream movie that hinged on a couple of female besties who blaze, I began to see that the true definition of the genre should read more like “male best friends battle ludicrous obstacles whilst high/trying to get high”.
That was until Comedy Central’s Broad City. Set in Brooklyn, New York, the escapades of protagonists Ilana and Abbi (Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson) more or less follow the rules for a great stoner buddy comedy to a tee (some episodes are more weed-heavy than others). The ladies’ love for ganja is introduced fairly casually in the first episode when acquiring some green becomes part of their to-do list in preparation for a Lil Wayne concert they’re trying to see. And that’s how toking up is treated throughout the entirety of the show–a casual endeavor making a nonchalant appearance. It’s just another piece of the characters’ personality puzzle, much like Abbi’s undying love for Bed, Bath, & Beyond (she especially enjoys combining the two).
The female leads are thick as thieves, the depths of their friendship driven home from the jump with the device of their extremely intimate Skype chats. Filling the role of instigator between the two, Ilana’s entire life is one big weed joke. I mean, the girl carries her weed bags in her vagina when she’s walking around in the city, using her noni as a naturally built-in smell-locked pot pocket (which is as raw and badass as it is overkill). “It’s the safest way to travel,” Illana explains. “The vageña is nature’s pocket. It’s natural, and it’s responsible.”
Abbi gets down, too, though. Abbi, being slightly more mature than Ilana, plays the part of a discontented slacker, timidly reaching for the next rung in life. Feeding off each other’s energy, get these two together and the party pops off. I love how in that same vagina-pocket episode (S1:E2, “Pu$$y Weed”), Abbi decides she needs to take responsibility for her own stoniness and goes on a wacky adventure trying to cop. First, she rings up her old hook up from college and awkwardly inquires about some greenery only to be met with judgment from a pill-popping housewife. Then she trolls the park mumbling “weed, weed” only to (da-doi) be mistaken for a drug dealer. After a very young schoolboy finally hooks it up, Abbi links with Illana to smoke up her spoils. Illana busts her teeth on a jawbreaker and the twosome have to head over to a possibly nitrous influenced Lincoln (Illana’s lover and dentist) for assistance, where Abbi blazes up in the bathroom and launches into a full-on sativa fueled freak out. It is pitch-perfect stoner buddy comedy at it’s finest, following in the footsteps of Cheech and Chong, Harold and Kumar, and Dude, Where’s My Car.
Now, there’ve been a few other shows on television that have paved the way for Broad City’s existence, but none have quite hit that mark of the stoner buddy comedy. Ab Fab comes about as close as you can, but its bougie fabulosity puts in a category of its own. Besides, Patsy and Edina aren’t so much stoners as they are pill popping alcoholics. Weeds stars a female lead, but can hardly be counted in this category since Nancy Botwin only puffs three times on camera over the course of eight seasons. Her antics are hardly that of a stoner–they are mostly just bad business decisions. Every once in a while we get a pot-smoking scene in female-driven shows like Girls and Sex and the City, but the overall plot isn’t hinged on the dro and sparking up is used more as a signifier of youth.
By nature of being a television series, Broad City doesn’t fill the female-driven stoner buddy comedy void exactly. Its episodic structure leads to more contained experiences in contrast to the grandiose and frequently convoluted plots of the genre’s films. I still can’t find a feature-length film that fits the bill. Most television and films featuring female stoners are ensemble casts, such as That 70’s Show or Dazed and Confused, or cast the character in the role of the cool, hot chick that is the love interest of the male protagonist like in Grandma’s Boy.
The best I can even come up with in terms of a female-led stoner comedy (forget the buddy part) is Smiley Face with Anna Faris, which is pretty painful to watch. Faris’ character, Jane, just cannot fucking catch a break. It almost reads like a covert anti-marijuana propaganda movie or at the very least like a film made by someone who doesn’t actually smoke pot. Embracing Reefer Madness-level drama, not only is Jane written to experience extreme paranoia and delusions but the characters she interacts with, reacting to her with oppressive hostility, ultimately resulting in (spoiler alert) Jane’s incarceration.
When stacked up next to other stoner flicks with male leads, the noticeable difference is that in Smiley Face, being high is not an awesomely unlikely asset as Jane navigates conflict. Take Harold and Kumar Go To White Castle, for example. These guys are written as cool, capable, chilled-out stoners. Harold’s daily sober life is portrayed as a lame rat-race grind. Kumar is a badass rebel and possible genius. Jane actually has quite a bit in common with Kumar. She majored in Economics and graduated summa cum laude and notes that ‘Economics didn’t work out’. Kumar is about the same age, talented in the field of medicine and resisting graduate school. But Jane’s economic prowess doesn’t serve her in any significant way in Smiley Face, while Kumar’s skills come in quite handy during a scene where the guys are forced to operate on a patient while they are impersonating doctors. When tallied up side by side, the imbalance is cringe-worthy.
This is where Broad City wins the prize–when Abbi and Ilana get high, the world does not punish them. Life just gets more fun. In the “Pu$$y Weed” episode, when Abbi loses her grip on reality as a result of overindulgence, the sober bystanders don’t freak out and/or call the cops. They just stare at her for a beat. I suppose you could chalk that up to New Yorkers, but the people in Los Angeles (where Smiley Face is set) are pretty chill about both weirdos and weed. In the Broad City universe, much like that of Harold and Kumar’s, when someone responds to Abbi and Illana with hostility, that character is painted as an uptight, control freak square. Abbi and Illana always remain the laid-back cool kids. When they find themselves in strange situations after getting high, it’s because the situations are strange, not Abbi and Illana. When things go wrong, the conflict is never presented as being a consequence of getting stoned, and these besties will always have one another and a handy little one-hitter to get them through it.
It’s those kinds of subtle choices that make Broad City well-executed stoner buddy comedy that gives it’s predecessors a run for their money. It’s quirky and it’s hilarious and importantly, distinctly feminine. You couldn’t just swap Abbi and Illana out with an Arti and an Elliot. That vagina-pocket bit would make zero fucking sense. And that makes Broad City brave because, in an industry where Bridesmaids can be considered “revolutionary” and where no one makes movies about female superheroes because they’re afraid they won’t have an audience, Broad City knows the T. Girls like pretty much all the same stuff that boys do. And Broad City gives the perspective of the female stoner a little time to shine.