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Bongwater is a 1998 American black comedy film directed by Richard Sears and starring Luke Wilson, Alicia Witt, Amy Locane, Brittany Murphy, Jack Black and Andy Dick. Based on the 1995 novel of the same name by Michael Hornburg, the film is set in Portland, Oregon, and follows an aspiring artist and marijuana dealer and his relationship with a tempestuous woman he meets through a client.

Plot

David (Luke Wilson) is a stoner living in Portland, Oregon. After having previously sold marijuana to a woman named Jennifer (Amy Locane), he is introduced to her friend, the tempestuous Serena (Alicia Witt), who is immediately disliked by his friends, Robert (Jeremy Sisto) and Tony (Andy Dick), a gay couple. Serena develops a liking to David after seeing the artwork he does in his spare time, and encourages him to make a career for himself. After moving into his house, she introduces him to Mary Weiss (Brittany Murphy), the daughter of a local gallery owner who falsely claims to be an art curator.

Serena becomes frustrated with David's lack of ambition, and decides to move to New York City with Tommy (Jamie Kennedy), a punk rocker and paranoid heroin addict. Before she leaves, she and David get into a fight, which ends in her burning down his house. In New York, Serena becomes increasingly frustrated with Tommy's paranoid antics. She meets Bobby (Scott Caan) one afternoon in a diner, and he invites her to move in with him in his apartment, which she discovers is actually a squat in the East Village.

In Portland, David begins a romance with Mary, and moves in with Robert, Tony, and Jennifer. While hiking with Mary, David runs into his friend Devlin (Jack Black), who is running a spiritual retreat in the woods, where they partake in LSD. While Mary marches through the woods with Devlin, David has a hallucination in which his deceased mother brings him lunch. In New York, Serena and Jennifer attend a party, where Serena is date raped. The following day, she confesses to Jennifer she wants to return to Portland. The two return the next day, but Serena is disheartened soon after when she discovers David and Jennifer having sex.

Several days later, David attends a 1980s-themed party with Jennifer, Robert, and Tony, which is busted by police. He flees to the rooftop, where he finds Serena sitting alone. Serena confronts him about him having sex with Jennifer, and he asks her if she's planning on staying in Portland. She tells him she isn't sure, and that she doesn't want to become too comfortable there again. She apologizes for the fire she set at David's house. They kiss, and then witness a UFO floating above them in the sky.

Cast

  • Luke Wilson as David
  • Alicia Witt as Serena
  • Amy Locane as Jennifer
  • Brittany Murphy as Mary Weiss
  • Jack Black as Devlin
  • Andy Dick as Tony
  • Jeremy Sisto as Robert
  • Jamie Kennedy as Tommy
  • [[Scott Caan as Bobby
  • Christian J. Meoli as Tobo
  • George Kuchar as Homeless Man
  • Patricia Wettig as David's Mom
  • Michael Artura as Cop
  • Scott Anthony Ferguson as Fireman
  • Kyle Gass as Guitar Player
  • Eric Mabius as Fenton (uncredited)

Production

The screenplay for the film was adapted from Michael Hornburg's 1995 novel of the same name, which was based on his experience living in Portland in the mid-1980s; the Serena character in the film (originally named Courtney in the novel) is based on Courtney Love, whom Hornburg knew in Portland.

The film was shot on location in Portland, Oregon and New York City on a budget of $1,000,000.

Release

The film was released at the Los Angeles Independent Film Festival on April 19, 1998, and later premiered on DVD in 2001.

Critical reception

The film has mostly received a mixed response from critics. Lael Loewenstein, film critic for Variety magazine, gave the film a mixed review, writing: "The latest entry in the growing field of indie youth ensemble films, Bongwater is an uneven, intermittently likable movie about a group of Portland residents for whom getting high is a way of life. While its fresh-faced but largely unknown cast members frequently rise above the material, pic isn't distinctive enough to suggest it will yield more than a limited run in specialized markets."

Ann Limpert of Entertainment Weekly gave the film a B rating, writing: "The title notwithstanding, this drug-laden laugh trip is more Reality Bites than Up in Smoke...Though [Wilson and Witt's] lack of real chemistry makes the cuddly ending feel tacked on, the hysterical drug-buddy performances of Brittany Murphy, Andy Dick, and Jack Black really make this joint roll."

TV Guide's Robert Pardi gave the film a negative review, writing: "This smoke-dream love story gives aimlessness a bad name: It's hard to concur with the screenplay's insistence that there's both pathos and humor to be found in the bong-inhaling, bed-hopping lives of these indolent characters."

Accolades

Nominations

  • DVD Exclusive Awards (Video Business Magazine): Video Premiere Award, Best Supporting Actress, Brittany Murphy; 2001.
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