By Justin Allen, AFROPUNK Contributor
At the beginning of Shaka King’s Sundance-selected Newlyweeds, protagonists Lyle (Amari Cheatom) and Nina (Trae Harris) lie in bed hitting a joint as marijuana smoke swirls into the air and begins to take the shape of letters, vanishing before the film’s title fully forms. This gesture parallels the function of Nina and Lyle’s relationship, one in which fantasies struggle to solidify in reality in the haze of their smoking habit.
The movie poses an interesting question: What is the shape, so to speak, of a relationship in which both partners are habitual marijuana smokers? This question is further complicated by the assumptions with which our society stigmatizes pot-smoking: laziness, stupidity and irresponsibility.
Lyle works as a repo man for a rental company, Nina as a museum guide enticing young visitors with her imagination. While at work, Lyle takes hits of blunts while his coworker blames his shortcomings on the job on his incessant desire to blaze. Nina, when a young museum-goer remarks on her scent, runs off, but not before a curator catches a whiff and connects with her on their shared liking for pot.
Quickly the story twists from meandering amongst love life, professional life and high times to one of jealousy and miscommunication. Turning at two instances in which both characters find themselves in jail, the plot takes the viewer on a journey into the deterioration of a relationship to which the key to its endurance is as amorphous as smoke.
The movie’s strength lies in its ability to provide a three dimensional portrait of both Lyle and Nina while keeping their relationship with weed at the focal point. These are working and growing lovers that smoke pot, not just two potheads.
In one scene, Lyle, paranoid while high, feels accused after Nina asks him if some weed he bought, he bought solely for himself. In another scene, after she recommends to Lyle that they take a break from weed with no luck, Nina attempts to break the monotony by suggesting they consume weed in a different way, as brownies.
Another strength of the film is its avoidance of both romantic comedy and stoner comedy cliches. Avoiding the trap of a predictable ending and jokes too specific to be enjoyed by anyone who isn’t a self-identified pothead, Nina and Lyle’s relationship is complex and unpredictable, captivating, like most romantic relationships, because of its grey areas.
In the film’s beginning, while high, Nina describes a dream she has in which she’s running through Prospect Park to get to Queens. When Lyle questions this geographical error--“Prospect Park is in Brooklyn”--Nina responds by suggesting it's dream logic. And this is the space in which Nina and Lyle struggle to find footing, caught between the abilities of theirs minds when stoned and their lives when driven by sober determination. “I don’t dream,” Lyle tells Nina. “That’s why I burn.”