Newlyweeds is a self-aware, light-hearted drama…”

Amari Cheatom and Trae Harris star as Lyle and Nina in Shaka King’s directorial debut Newlyweeds, a film focusing on the issues of marijuana dependency (I hesitate to call it an addiction) and its effects outside on the kind it has on the mind. Lyle and Nina are living in Brooklyn, with Lyle working as a repo man and Nina, a post-grad with dreams to travel the world, working as a museum tour guide. However, when a third character, Mary Jane, becomes more of a prominent role in their relationship, especially for Lyle, who uses her as an escape to the point of being a barely functional human being anymore, the relationship takes an ugly toll.

Directed by
Shaka King
Amari Cheatom, Trae Harris, Tone Tank
Release Date
18 September 2013
Steve’s Grade: B

Newlyweeds is a self-aware, light-hearted drama on an issue that most definitely exists and its contemporary take on the subject is dually noted. Writer/director King employs long shots of characters talking, their conversations reenacting the rhythms and the typical stream-of-consciousness flow of real-life discussions, demonstrating that King has a talent for mimicking the unpredictabilities of social realism. This is a relatively solid topic to demonstrate that talent with, and seeing as this is King’s directorial debut, this style can only get better as time goes on.

Such conversational poetry comes when Lyle is talking with his coworker, played by Tone Tank, who loves to drink alcohol, while Lyle, for now, sticks the weed. The two argue about what is worse for you, Lyle using the commonplace thesis of marijuana being a form of medicine and stating he doesn’t need to be a doctor to know his friend has a liver that mirrors that of a brick. Tank, however, makes the equally-commonplace argument that the drug makes you dumber and lessens your intelligence. This kind of conversation that King illustrates has vibes of an actual debate on marijuana between someone who frequents the plant and someone who prefers to knock-back the legal substance of alcohol.

Being that Cheatom is on-screen eighty-five percent of the time, and plays the role of a character frequently lost in the blurriness of his own pot smoke, he handles this role effectively, giving us serious reasons to like and dislike him. We see his determination and ambitions as a member of the black community, which makes us appreciate his purity and his humanity, but we also see him as someone who’s dependency gets in the way of these aspirations of a better life (whatever that life may be). Because of this, sympathy is a bit more difficult, especially when he neglects Nina to smoke for several hours at a time.

But these qualities, at the end, lead to his character’s humanization. At the end of the day, that’s what it boils down to – Lyle is a human being going through an experience undoubtedly shared by countless others. The film doesn’t portray the character’s struggles with marijuana as a typical character’s struggle with alcohol because it shouldn’t. Doing so would spark nothing more than outrage and embellishment of two completely different poisons. The two are separate beasts and should be treated just like that.

This is the kind of directorial debut where, immediately after watching it, I wish the director had another film I could see. King’s maturity, albeit it clever playfulness, with the material at hand shows his ability to take a strong, contemporary topic and make it an entertaining picture rather than a morality play or a dull parable. In America, where I believe marijuana legalization is approaching quickly, these kinds of films showing the substance’s roles in society are nothing shy of essential. We should understand what we’re legalizing and the sporadic effects it has on people, other than their appetite and their mental state.

Review by Steve Pulaski, Lead Film Critic