The Moneytree

1992 Directed by Alan Dienstag. Starring Christopher Dienstag, Malcolm Cohen, Monica T. Caldwell, Kathrine Schutzman, Nadarien.

REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., March 6, 1992

It is nice, for a change, to see a movie that couples pot farming and questions of morality and doesn't come down on the side of “just say no.” This independent production was a father/son collaboration with father, Alan directing and son, Christopher producing and starring. The dialogue was all improvised. As the film opens, David (Christopher Dienstag) is the cultivator of a pot crop perched clandestinely in the northern California woods. It's about 30 days before harvest and the finished product is expected to reap about $70,000. As well as doing all the farming, David assumes total responsibility for bringing his product to market. David's shrewish girlfriend (though I suspect he doesn't realize she's a shrew), Erica, wants him to quit. She's a materialistic rich girl who wants David to abandon his chosen vocation and go to work for her Daddy's corporate empire. This pair is so mismatched that it's hard to visualize what they ever saw in each other. David's old friends encourage him to resume his bid to become an actor. He has recurring discussions with a director buddy of his over choices they face and the morality of David's venture. (“You've never seen anyone lying in the gutter with a joint in his hand.”) David even plays Florence Nightingale to the terminally ill when he brings pot to a hospitalized pal. But then a running partner of his gets popped at the airport while holding and Erica leaves him after flashing on their differences and a coke dealer friend (who had offered David a piece of the trade, though David rejected it as “poison”) winds up dead. All this leaves David feeling like he's got to make some hard decisions about his life choices. Yet for all his speechifying about the merits of pot, you never really get the feeling that David truly digs the stuff. We never even see him smoke it, though we witness plentiful scenes depicting various details of its cultivation. In large measure I suspect this hollowness is due to the amateurism of the production and the improvisational nature of the story development. The acting rarely achieves any comfortable naturalism and the narrative flow is choppy at best, held together at times by an annoyingly jaunty jazz score. Still, The Moneytree has potential as a cult favorite, a pot-embracing antidote to cautionary film fables like Reefer Madness. One of the things this movie may prove is that fathers and sons should not pass joints amongst themselves.

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The Moneytree, Alan Dienstag, Christopher Dienstag, Malcolm Cohen, Monica T. Caldwell, Kathrine Schutzman, Nadarien

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