In my posts about this year’s Chicago International Film Festival, I failed to mention the Uruguayan drug comedy High Five, which played two Fridays ago at 4:20 PM. It was one of the more memorable screenings I attended at the fest, and not just because the young man sitting behind me wiggled his bare feet on the armrest next to mine for most of the show. As I’ve noted elsewhere, contemporary Uruguayan cinema excels in depictions of simple pleasures and routine drudgery, so it seems inevitable that a Uruguayan movie about getting high would take place on a sunny workday afternoon. That the festival screened it on a pleasant (if not quite sunny) workday afternoon was a masterstroke. Even those spectators who hadn’t cut class or slipped away from their jobs to attend must have appreciated the gesture.
Clearly Manuel Facal, who wrote and directed this bad-taste divertissement, has studied the recent work of Seth Rogen and Jonah Hill. The film’s Jenga tower of narrative complications is as impressive a construction as that of Pineapple Express or Superbad, and the drug-fueled slapstick is as spirited as that of 21 Jump Street. Yet High Five still feels Uruguayan in its determinedly low-stakes farce. The setup finds a Jonah Hill-like slacker in his early 20s discovering a huge stash of drugs at the local park. This inspires him to conduct a “social experiment” in which five friends consume a different controlled substance over the course of an afternoon so that the group can compare their highs. With only two friends in town he recruits his high school-aged brother and the kid’s girlfriend to take part, even though this means sneaking them out of school. Inevitably things go wrong, but not to any serious consequence. The heroes might talk about how they need to stop fucking around and start growing up, but since these characters are all around 23, one senses that they still have plenty of time to do this.
There are little reminders throughout of the working world these characters are trying to avoid, though Facal never takes a contemptuous view of working people. In the movie’s best running gag, the characters find themselves getting picked up over and over by the same taxi driver. This aging hack is neither a put-upon straight man nor a drug-induced hallucination—he’s a regular guy who comes to enjoy the situation because it makes his workday a little more interesting. (In a pleasant turn of events, the taxi driver ends up winning the lottery.) As the lights came up and the viewers started putting on their jackets (and in some cases, their socks and shoes), I felt a similar sense of levity. The feeling wasn’t anything so grand that it made me forget about the responsibilities waiting for me at home, but then, I don’t think I was supposed to. As agreeably underachieving as its protagonists, High Five invited us to grin at how little it accomplished beyond getting us out of the house. I found this to be more than enough, after the dozen or so pieces of strained seriousness I’d seen at the festival before then.