Review: ‘Have a Good Trip: Adventures in Psychedelics’ starring Sting, Ben Stiller, Carrie Fisher, Anthony Bourdain, Deepak Chopra, A$AP Rocky and Sarah Silverman

May 18, 2020

by Carla Hay

Rob Corddry in “Have a Good Trip: Adventures in Psychedelics” (Photo courtesy of Netflix)

“Have a Good Trip: Adventures in Psychedelics”

Directed by Donick Cary

Culture Representation: This documentary interviews a predominantly white male group of entertainers who talk about their experiences taking psychedelic drugs, and the movie features a diverse group of actors doing comedy skits about psychedelic drug experiences.

Culture Clash: Despite these drugs being illegal, almost all of the people interviewed say that they don’t regret taking psychedelic drugs.

Culture Audience: “Have a Good Trip: Adventures in Psychedelics” will appeal to people who just want one-sided comedic stories about taking psychedelic drugs, because the movie’s agenda is to exclude any stories about the drugs’ long-term negative effects on health.

Nick Offerman in “Have a Good Trip: Adventures in Psychedelics” (Photo courtesy of Netflix)

In its overexuberance to portray psychedelic drug taking as something that’s harmless or something to laugh about later, the documentary “Have a Good Trip: Adventures in Psychedelics” sinks to new lows of exploitation by prominently featuring two celebrities whose tragic, self-destructive deaths are definitely not funny. The documentary’s filmmakers (including director Donick Cary) made the morbid and tacky decision to display the filmmakers’ interviews with Carrie Fisher and Anthony Bourdain in this parade of celebrities who mostly glamorize taking psychedelic drugs.

Fisher died in 2016 of drug-related causes. Bourdain committed suicide in 2018. They both struggled with mental-health issues and drug addiction and admitted to taking a lot of LSD and other psychedelics in their lifetimes. Needless to say, Fisher and Bourdain are definitely not examples of how psychedelic drugs can help people with mental-health problems and drug addictions. And yet, the documentary pushes the scientifically unproven agenda that psychedelic drugs are beneficial to people suffering from drug addiction and mental-health issues.

But hey, why let these tragic deaths get in the way of making a documentary where these now-dead people are shown joking about their acid trips, as if those drug experiences couldn’t possibly be harmful to them? They’re certainly not going to talk about the negative side effects of “bad trips,” such as suicidal thoughts, depression or psychosis. After all, this movie wants people to believe that psychedelics are “shiny, happy drugs,” without giving a thoroughly honest look at the down sides too, because the film is so focused on having people endorse these drugs.

And there’s a reason why the filmmakers only included entertainers in this documentary that glamorizes psychedelic drugs. Imagine a documentary that featured a bunch of health-care workers, emergency responders, schoolteachers or airplane pilots joking about their experiences doing psychedelic drugs, and many of the interviewees giving the impression that they still do psychedelics on a regular basis. It wouldn’t seem so “harmless” then, would it?

Therefore, it’s no surprise that the documentary focuses on people (some more famous than others) who are in showbiz, where illegal drug abuse is flaunted and often celebrated. The average person in a regular job would not be able to get away with bragging in a Netflix documentary about their drug experiences.

Nor does the average person have the kind of money that rock star Sting has, to fly to Mexico whenever he wants, just to take peyote in an elaborate shaman ritual, which he describes in vivid detail in the documentary. Almost all of the people in this film can easily afford to indulge in taking illegal drugs and do not have to worry about how they’re going to pay for any medical treatment or legal issues if things go wrong. It’s one of the reasons why the documentary glamorizes these drug experiences, because there are some negative consequences to illegal drug taking that the “average” person can’t casually dismiss as easily as a well-paid entertainer can.

In addition to Sting, there are several other entertainers in the documentary who talk about their psychedelic drug trips or say that they’ve used psychedelic drugs: Ben Stiller (who’s one of the documentary’s producers), Nick Kroll, Deepak Chopra, Will Forte, A$AP Rocky, Nick Offerman, Shepard Fairey, Lewis Black, Paul Scheer, Rob Corddry, Andy Richter, Judd Nelson, Sarah Silverman, Jim James, Diedrich Bader, Rob Huebel, Reggie Watts, Natasha Lyonne, Adam Horovitz, Mark Maron, Rosie Perez, Donovan, Grateful Dead drummer Bill Kreutzmann, Brett Gelman, Robert Ben Garant, Thomas Lennon and David Cross.

One of the problems of doing a documentary like this is that you never really know how much people could be exaggerating or lying about these drug experiences. Many of the people interviewed are comedians and actors—two professions that are notorious for people fabricating things about their lives in order to get attention. Therefore, this documentary should not be considered very “realistic” by any stretch of the drug-addled imagination.

The psychedelic stories are re-enacted in one of two ways: through animation or by having live actors do a scripted skit. The animated segments (from Sugarshack Animation) are among the best aspects of the documentary. The scripted skits are hit-and-miss.

One of those misfires is miscasting Adam Devine as Bourdain in a re-enactment of Bourdain’s description of a drug-fueled, Hunter S. Thompson-inspired road trip that he took when he was a young man in the 1970s. Devine is known for having a sweet and goofy persona, while Bourdain was the complete opposite, which makes the re-enactment wrong from the get-go.

Even worse, the story that Bourdain tells isn’t even that funny. The road trip included Bourdain and a male friend picking up two women and partying heavily with them in a hotel room, including ingesting several drugs, such as LSD, alcohol, marijuana and cocaine. One of the women overdosed, and the others thought she was dead. So they just left her unconscious on the floor while they tried to figure out what to do, according to Bourdain.

Bourdain, while high on LSD, says that he imagined that there would be police coming to arrest them, with helicopters, searchlights, and a S.W.A.T.-like team surrounding the room. And then the woman suddenly regained consciousness and started to dance as if nothing had happened. Someone could’ve died from ingesting drugs while you were partying with that person, you had a LSD-induced panic attack about being arrested, and that’s supposed to be funny?

A better re-enactment that accomplishes its intended humor is Natasha Leggero dressed in a “Star Wars” Princess Leia outfit, for Fisher’s tale of being high on LSD while in New York City’s Central Park. During that psychedelic experience, Fisher says she spent a great deal of time being upset at seeing an acorn “misbehave” on the grass. During another acid trip on a beach, Fisher vaguely remembers she might have been topless when a bus full of Japanese tourists stopped right in front of her and they recognized her.

And in a somewhat clever casting switcheroo, Corddry plays Scheer in the segment that re-enacts Scheer’s psychedelic story, while Scheer plays Corddy in Corddry’s re-enactment. Meanwhile, Kroll portrays himself in his re-enactment about how he and a group of male friends were high on LSD at a Malibu beach, and the friends covered him in kelp as a prank. He then imagined himself to be a kelp monster and chased them around the beach. (Things weren’t so funny the next morning when he woke up covered in bites from whatever small animals were in the kelp.)

Most of the psychedelic trips described in the documentary are about hallucinations, experiencing colors in a different way, or losing a sense of time or memory. And there are the typical stories of “revelations,” along the lines of “I saw inside my soul,” “I saw how connected the world is” and “I found out the meaning of life is to love everybody.” Some of the people interviewed also give advice by saying it’s better to take psychedelics with trusted friends and to avoid looking in mirrors while under the influence of psychedelics.

A$AP Rocky (one of the few people of color who’s interviewed in the film) tells one of the documentary’s funniest stories, about how he took LSD with a beautiful female companion. During the course of the time they had together, they started having sex. And he swears that he saw a rainbow shoot from his penis during this encounter. “I don’t even like rainbows,” he quips. (Needless to say, the re-enactment for this story is definitely in animation form.)

But for every entertaining story like that one, the documentary has a story that’s basic or boring. The Grateful Dead was considered the ultimate psychedelic rock band, so you’d think one of the Dead’s drummers would have some hilarious stories to tell. Wrong.

Kreutzmann’s anecdotes aren’t that interesting or revealing, unless you consider it’s fascinating that he tells a story of coming home to his parents’ house after staying out all night while he was on LSD, and hallucinating that his breakfast meal of eggs were moving on the plate. He also mentions that he once couldn’t finish performing at a Grateful Dead concert because he was hallucinating that his drums were melting. Yawn.

Being stoned on psychedelics at a Grateful Dead show is also predictably mentioned by some of the interviewees, such as Corddry and Maron. (The late Fred Willard has a cameo as a Deadhead hippie in the re-enactment of Maron’s psychedelic story.) Garant comedically describes how you can tell the difference between someone having a “good trip” and a “bad trip” at a Dead concert, because someone having a “good trip” will lean forward while walking, while someone having a “bad trip” will lean backward while walking, as if they’re afraid of where their head will go.

Sting, who says he’s had good and bad psychedelic trips, mentions that facing his own mortality was one of the most frightening things he ever experienced while under the influence of psychedelics. He also describes the first time he took peyote. It was at a farm in England, where he was unexpectedly asked to help a cow give birth while he was tripping out on the drug. He was told that the cow would die if he didn’t help, and when the calf was born, Sting says he finally understood the miracle of life.

“I think it’s a valuable experience,” says Sting of taking psychedelic drugs. “Whenever I’ve had a bad trip—and I’ve had many—I’ve realized it was what I needed. Sometimes, you need to have your ego taken down a notch or two. On the other hand, you can have immensely rewarding experiences. My feeling is that it balances out.”

Stiller is one of the few celebrities in the documentary who talks about disliking what he says was his one and only experience with LSD (when he was a young man in the ’80s), because it was a bad trip. He says that he was hoping that it would be an enlightening experience, but instead he spent the approximately six-hour acid trip feeling “fear and anxiety.”

“Immediately, I started to freak out and get really scared,” Stiller remembers. “I started staring at my hand, doing the cliché thing of of pondering what my hand was.” His paranoia during the acid trip was made worse, he says, when he and the friend he was with at the time began walking around New York City and saw the parade floats that were going to be in the upcoming Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Stiller says that he hallucinated that the floats were chasing him, like the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man in the “Ghostbusters” movie.

Perez and Silverman each say that the first time they took LSD, it was by accident. Silverman said that it happened when she and some comedian friends were hanging out at a diner in New York City, when a hippie stranger walked in and handed her a tab of LSD that she took without even asking what it was. Her story isn’t as coherent as some of the others, since she recalls laughing and crying with a group of people in public and then ending up in someone’s car with the driver (who was also on LSD) forgetting how to drive.

Perez said she got “dosed” when she was out with her sister on New Year’s Eve in their hometown of New York City, sometime in the late ’80s. They went to a nightclub, where she was offered some fruit punch as a drink. Little did she know that the punch was spiked with LSD. Perez says that she  hallucinated that the dance floor had turned into waves, and she ended up rolling around with her breasts exposed.

Her trip intensified when she got home and imagined that her body had merged into her bed. Perez says she didn’t do drugs or drink alcohol at this time in her life, so when she was told that she was having an acid trip, her first thought was that she was going to hell. She says that the experience led her to seek therapy, which helped her get over her “Catholic guilt,” so she thinks getting rid of her religious hang-ups was one good thing that came out of the experience.

Speaking of guilt trips, the movie pokes fun at the ridiculous, over-the-top and usually badly acted public-service announcements (PSAs) aimed at preventing people, especially young people, from taking psychedelics. Offerman pops up occasionally throughout the film in a parody of a science professor who talks about the effects of psychedelics. NBCUniversal’s “The More You Know” PSA campaign is mocked with “The More You Trip,” whenever one of the interviewees gives advice on what to do or what not to do when taking psychedelics. (For example: “Don’t drive while on acid.”)

The “ABC Afterschool Special” is given the satire treatment with the documentary’s “LSD Afterschool Special,” a multi-part segment that has actor/comedian Adam Scott as the host of a 1980s-styled PSA film with a plot of nerdy high schoolers (played by Haley Joel Osment and Maya Erskine) going to a house party and being tempted into the “evils” of taking LSD. It’s a funny idea but it’s executed poorly.

On a more serious note, “Have a Good Trip” also attempts to promote the theory that using psychedelics is the best way to treat depression and other mental-health issues. Dr. Charles Grob, a psychiatry professor at the University of California at Los Angeles, is interviewed about his research in this area. Not surprisingly, he’s a proponent of using psychedelics to treat these issues (how else would he be able to continue to get research money), but the documentary fails to present other scientific points of view.

The only other non-entertainer interviewed in the film is Zach Leary, son of famed LSD guru Timothy Leary. And what he has to say is very predictable and reveals nothing new at all: “DMT is like the express ticket to primordial ooze. If you want to see what it is to be an organic being and absolutely watch your ego dissipate into nothingness, smoke some DMT, and you’ll get there right away.”

Although some people in the documentary, including Dr. Grob, caution that taking psychedelics isn’t for everyone and can have damaging effects for some people, any of those “bad effects” stories are shut out of the film. It’s like doing a documentary about bungee jumping and refusing to talk about the people who got seriously injured or killed from this risky stunt.

Celebrity spiritual guru Chopra, who says he experimented with psychedelics in the past, is one of the few people in the film who admits “you run the risk of psychosis” from doing psychedelics. Of course, the film only presents stories from people who say that they have “happy endings” from taking psychedelics. And two of those people are now dead because of self-destructive reasons, so viewers can judge for themselves how “beneficial” psychedelics really are in helping people with serious health issues such as depression and addiction.

One of the more irresponsible things about the documentary is that it leaves out any talk of acid flashbacks. Naïve people who see this film as a guide to taking psychedelic drugs might think that once an acid trip is “over,” the drug has left the body, the way that alcohol can leave the human body through urine after a 24-to-48-hour period if no more alcohol is consumed. But the scientific reality is that, depending on the dosage, psychedelic drugs can stay in the body for a variable period of time, and that can lead to unpredictable and random “flashback” trips.

How people feel about “Have a Good Trip” will depend largely on how much they worship celebrities and take their words as gospel. The psychedelic anecdotes in the film should be taken for what they are—stories from people who are in the business of creating fake personas and making things look more glamorous than they really are.

The people who were chosen to be interviewed for this documentary also have the privilege of being less likely to be arrested for illegal drugs. (With few exceptions, most of the people in this film have a certain level of fame.) And they are less likely to have their careers ruined by a lot of psychedelic drug use, compared to people who don’t live in such a privileged bubble. It’s something to think about whenever you hear a celebrity in a certain income bracket openly brag about using illegal drugs.

Netflix premiered “Have a Good Trip: Adventures in Psychedelics” on May 11, 2020.

Review: ‘The Mindfulness Movement,’ starring Jewel, Deepak Chopra, Fleet Maull, Sharon Salzberg, Dan Harris and Daniel Goleman

April 10, 2020

by Carla Hay

Sharon Salzberg in “The Mindfulness Movement” (Photo courtesy of Abramorama/Mangurama)

“The Mindfulness Movement”

Directed by Rob Beemer

Culture Representation: Focused primarily on U.S. ventures, the documentary “The Mindfulness Movement” interviews several people (mostly upper-middle class/wealthy and predominantly white, with some people of color) who advocate for reaching a higher consciousness through meditation and group therapy.

Culture Clash: The mindfulness movement believes in the power of positive thinking and discourages self-medicating through abusing drugs and alcohol.

Culture Audience: “The Mindfulness Movement” will appeal primarily to people already inclined to engage in new-age lifestyles, but everyone else might be bored or turned off by the “infomercial” tone of the movie.

Fleet Maull (pictured at far left) in “The Mindfulness Movement” (Photo courtesy of Abramorama/Mangurama)

“The Mindfulness Movement,” directed by Rob Beemer, is less of a documentary and more of a parade of mindfulness movement advocates who have money-making ventures that they’re promoting in the movie. Whether it’s their wellness program, therapy business, research institute, book, app or hi-tech gadget, the goal is all the same: They want people to buy or financially support what they’re selling.

The mindfulness movement preaches that meditation is one of the essential elements of the movement. And yet the irony of all the shilling in the movie is the fact that meditation can be done for free. But don’t tell that to potential customers, or else most of the people interviewed in this movie would be out of business.

The message of the mindfulness movement certainly should be applauded, because it’s about self-improvement in healthy, positive ways and having more self-respect, which then extends to respecting others and leading happier lives. However, these beliefs have been around for centuries in many cultures (and was touted in Western mainstream culture by the 1960s hippie movement), but the mindfulness movement tries to dress up this ideology as something that’s relatively new.

The documentary (which is narrated by actress Jewel Greenberg) shows that an entire industry has sprouted up around the mindfulness movement, which seems to have a lot of self-congratulatory people who act as if they’re doing something modern and groundbreaking in presenting centuries-old concepts to the public. Much of the counseling and advice that the movement’s entrepreneurs are selling is the same information that can be found online for free. There are also numerous free services that people can find that do the exact same things that people get charged fees for under the “mindfulness” label.

Multimillionaire spiritual guru Deepak Chopra and Grammy-nominated singer Jewel (who appear briefly in the film) are two of the executive producers of “The Mindfulness Movement.” It’s essentially a movie that features a lot of boring interviews with mostly middle-aged people and senior citizens, who are millionaires or who have six-figure incomes, preaching to people on how they can live better lives through the mindfulness movement. And by they way, here’s the book, therapy program, or fill-in-the blank they want to sell too.

If this movie wants to reach a wider audience (in other words, the general public) with its message, it did a very inadequate job of it because most of the people chosen for the documentary’s interviews are not relatable to most of the public. Most of the interviewees are at a certain level of income that most people in the world do not have. Essentially, the movie looks like it was made for the demographic of people who can afford to do things such as pay for new-age training seminars or buy trendy high-tech gadgets that are supposed to measure their “consciousness brain waves.”

Some of the people in the movie tell their hard-luck sob stories to make themselves seem more relatable to the “common folks” who don’t have the money to go on the type of week-long meditation retreats that the mindfulness movement likes to sell. Jewel repeats the well-known story about her abusive father and her unhappy childhood that led to her leaving home at 15 and being homeless for at least a year before she found fame and fortune in her early 20s with her 1995 multimillion-selling debut album “Pieces of You.” She gives credit to the mindfulness movement’s concept of positive thinking for why she has inner peace. For example, she says, that instead of thinking, “I don’t know what I’m doing,” it’s better to think, “I’m capable of learning.”

George Mumford, author of “The Mindful Athlete,” talks about how he was a promising basketball player at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst (where Julius “Dr. J” Erving was his roommate) until an ankle injury ended his basketball dreams. Mumford then began abusing drugs and alcohol and eventually cleaned up his act before becoming a (no doubt well-paid) consultant who worked with Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal in their basketball heydays.

ABC News correspondent/weekend anchor Dan Harris repeats the same story he’s told many times about his notorious panic attack on the air in 2004, which he later used 10 years later to parlay into a book deal about his therapy in the mindfulness movement. In the documentary, Harris says that the on-air panic attack (where he basically just stumbled over his words for less than a minute) was one of the worst things that ever happened to him. (Such a hard life!) He also said that he was regularly doing cocaine and Ecstasy at the time, and he didn’t realize until a doctor told him later that those drugs probably had something to do with the panic attack. (And this guy is supposed to be an informed journalist.)

Fleet Maull, who founded the Prison Mindfulness Institute to help prisoners, was also caught up in drugs before he turned his life around with a mindfulness lifestyle. During a group therapy session with inmates at John J. Moran Medium Security Facility in Rhode Island, Maull shares a personal story about how he was incarcerated for many years because of cocaine trafficking. He says that the mindfulness lifestyle worked for him in prison and was even more beneficial to him outside of prison. Maull’s institute is one of the few in the documentary that’s geared to an audience that’s not the norm (prisoners) for the mindfulness movement. However, most of the other businesses in the mindfulness movement are definitely by and for a certain class of people.

The other mindfulness movement advocates who are interviewed in the documentary include Insight Meditation Society co-founder Sharon Salzberg; “Emotional Intelligence” author Daniel Goleman; SelfWorks Group Therapy Professionals owner Amy Vigliotti; Aetna mindfulness chief officer Andy Lee; Richard Goerling of the Mindful Badge Initiative; 1440 Multiversity founder Scott Kriens; Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute CEO Rich Fernandez; Mindful Warrior Project executive director Gail Sofer; and Ohio U.S. Representative Tim Ryan, a Democrat who wrote the book “Mindful Nation.”

There are also several academics interviewed in the film, including Richard Dawson of the University of Wisconsin at Madison’s Center for Healthy Minds; Diana Winston of UCLA’s Mindfulness Research Center; Harvard Business School fellow Bill George; and the University of Massachusetts Medical School’s Center for Mindfulness founder Jon Kabat-Zinn, who says he created the concept of mindfulness-based stress reduction.

And the movie also shows some of the technology gadgets that are being sold as part of the mindfulness movement. Interaxon founder Ariel Garten is interviewed and there’s a segment in the movie that promotes an Interaxon product called Muse, which is basically a high-tech meditation headband. There’s also mention of virtual-reality options that can help people have more immersive and more sensory experiences in meditation.

But really, there’s no proof that doing high-tech mediation (which costs money) achieves better results than meditating the old-fashioned way: for free. It’s just another example of how this documentary doesn’t point out this obvious fact, and the movie bends over backwards to give a platform to people who want to make money from this movement.

The best parts of the movie are when it goes beyond interviewing the privileged group of people who are looking to make money from the movement and shows how the movement’s positive concepts can reach people who can’t hang out for several hours a day with mediation/therapy groups. For example, Jewel visits some teenage school children to talk to them about how mindfulness can help improve self-confidence. The movie needed more of this type of “real world” interaction instead of overstuffing the film with a lot of dull and pretentious interviews.

Another example of the documentary showing some interaction in the real world is a segment on Patterson High School in Baltimore. Principal Vance M. Benton, who is interviewed, talks about how giving the students time to meditate has seemingly helped them improve. And there are brief interviews with California police officers Eric White and Jennifer Tejada of the Emeryville Police Department, who give testimonials about how meditation has helped them become better cops.

To its credit, “The Mindfulness Movement” does cover a diversity of professions that are involved in this movement. However, the movie would be more appealing if it had less talk and more action. And by action, that doesn’t mean just filming people sitting around and meditating or being lectured to about how they can improve their lives.

For example, Mindful Warrior Project founder/executive director Gail Sofer works with military veterans in the Los Angeles area who have post-traumatic stress disorder or other mental-health issues. Instead of just interviewing her, the movie could have included more time (instead of a few soundbites that last less than a minute) talking to the people that the program is supposed to benefit (and their family members/loved ones), so viewers can get more real-life examples of how the program works. A movie like this needed more case studies and less bragging from people about what they know about the mindfulness movement.

The movie also visits the offices of Mindful magazine/Mindful.org, where art director Jessica von Handorf says of the editorial images they choose: “One thing we try to avoid is ‘bliss face,’ which is someone in a state of ecstasy. You see a lot of that in advertising.” She explains the reality of mindfulness: “Mindfulness can be gritty. It can be celebratory. It can be hard.”

And therein lies the movie’s biggest flaw. Although it might have good intentions for promoting the mindfulness movement, the movie is one big “bliss face” for the movement, by presenting this very calculated, “one size fits all” view that tries to make the movement look like a perfect, happy solution to people’s problems. But “perfect” is not realistic. And unfortunately, a lot of the people who are interviewed in the movie lack the charisma to make this a compelling film to watch.

It also doesn’t help that several methods that the movement endorses are basically repackaging and selling of concepts that people can get for free. It’s why the tone of the film is very much like an ad campaign. Regardless of how anyone feels about the platitudes expressed in the movie, one thing’s for sure about “The Mindfulness Movement”—watching it is a good cure for insomnia.

Abramorama and Mangurama released “The Mindfulness Movement” on digital and VOD on April 10, 2020.

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