'Have a Good Trip: Adventures in Psychedelics': Film Review

Netflix
A very mixed bag.
5/11/2020

A comedy all-star cast of thousands — and Sting — share their insights on hallucinogens.

"If you're doing drugs the right way, you can't tell an orderly story." So says the inimitable Carrie Fisher, interviewed in her Hollywood home for Donick Cary's Have a Good Trip. And yet the writer-director's primer on the do's and don'ts of psychedelics is filled with orderly, well-told anecdotes about doing drugs. Most of the tellers, after all, are pros, practiced in the art of honing a story to its entertaining essentials: They're comedians and comic actors.

A few other types of smart people, including musicians, artists and scientific experts, weigh in too during this would-be spin on Reefer Madness by way of The Aristrocrats. The general urge to demystify and destigmatize LSD, peyote and psilocybin is clear, but even so, one question courses through the spirited yet drifting collection of interviews, skits and animation: Beyond the celeb factor, what's the point?

It's perhaps fitting that the doc frequently seems to have lost its big-picture train of thought, notwithstanding Gregory Stees' sharp editing. As it jumps from anecdote to spoof to archival snippet, it offers perfunctory asides on the psychology and biochemistry of psychedelics. There are fleeting glances at the research begun by Timothy Leary in the '60s, and an end-credits update on legalization breakthroughs and recent FDA interest in psychedelics' potential as a treatment for depression, PTSD and addiction. Bizarrely, though, this acid-centric production offers not a single mention of microdosing — perhaps a sign, along with the (welcome but bittersweet) presence of Fisher and Anthony Bourdain, of how long the film has been on the shelf.

As a harmless time-waster, Good Trip has its charms, but also its oversold shtick. For no particular reason, Nick Offerman appears in goofy scientist mode, providing the very lightest of anchors to the proceedings. Adam Scott is onscreen more frequently, as the ridiculously earnest host of an Afterschool Special that traffics in anti-drug warnings of the direst and least fact-based sort. The high school drama he introduces, performed by Riki Lindhome, Ron Funches, Maya Erskine and Haley Joel Osment, should have been used in smaller and fewer doses, if at all — not because of its strength but because it never gets going.

The lampoons may be wan, but Cary, a comedy vet whose writer-producer credits include Late Night With David Letterman, The Simpsons and Silicon Valley, clearly has fun re-creating the look and feel of pop-culture artifacts. He includes PSA-style interstitials that offer advice on the importance of choosing where and with whom to trip, whether to look in the mirror while under the influence, and whether to drive (on that cautionary count, extra points to Judd Nelson's recollection of a freeway incident). Exuberant candy-colored animation serves as a kaleidoscopic connective tissue. And figurative animation illustrates some of the anecdotes (others are re-enacted, in scenes whose chief purpose is to riff on period and genre tropes).

Those well-told anecdotes vary widely in terms of message and tone. Sting's is life-and-death purposeful, Bourdain's hyperarticulate, Lewis Black's existentially wry. Ben Stiller's tale of youthful misadventure is the most endearing, and Rosie Perez's the most purely and delightfully entertaining. There are the inevitable Grateful Dead references — and one actual Grateful Dead bandmember, Bill Kreutzmann. No less inevitable are the references to A-list globe-trotting: Sting's journey to the Mexican desert for a proper initiation into peyote; Fisher's Star Wars-era trip to the Seychelles for the primary purpose of dropping acid.

Exploring mostly good trips but also exhibiting a healthy interest in the bad ones, the film touches on big themes: the rituals, ancient and newfangled, of psychedelic use; its sensuous joys and terrors; the spiritual breakthroughs that can be healing in the moment or truly life-changing. Cary's mildly diverting film certainly doesn't fall into the latter category; it feels transitory even while it's unspooling.

Production companies: Sunset Rose Pictures in association with Sugarshack 2000
Distributor: Netflix
With: Sting, A$AP Rocky, Bill Kreutzmann, Rosie Perez, Reggie Watts, Robert Ben Garant, Thomas Lennon, Brett Gelman, Will Forte, David Cross, Carrie Fisher, Natasha Lyonne, Anthony Bourdain, Ben Stiller, Deepak Chopra, Sarah Silverman, David Koechner, Andy Richter, Judd Nelson, Jim James, Diedrich Bader, Lewis Black, Dr. Charles Grob, Rob Huebel, Nick Kroll, Rob Corddry, Matt Besser, Adam Horovitz, Kathleen Hanna, Paul Scheer, Donovan, Zach Leary, Marc Maron, Shepard Fairey, Nick Offerman, James Adomian, Adam Scott, Riki Lindhome, Armen Weitzman, Ron Funches, Maya Erskine, Haley Joel Osment, Adam Devine, Blake Anderson, Natasha Leggero, Bill Kottkamp, Fred Willard
Screenwriter-director: Donick Cary
Producers: Mike Rosenstein, Donick Cary, Ben Stiller, Stuart Cornfeld, Jeremy Reitz, Jim Ziegler
Directors of photography: Skyler Rousselet, Stash Slionski
Production designer: Caitlin Nicole Williams
Costume designer: Alisha Silverstein
Editor: Gregory Stees
Music: Yo La Tengo
Casting director: Melissa DeLizia

86 minutes