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, Judd Nelson, 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: ‘Olympic Dreams,’ starring Nick Kroll and Alexi Pappas

February 15, 2020

by Carla Hay

Nick Kroll and Alexi Pappas in “Olympic Dreams” (Photo courtesy of IFC Films)

“Olympic Dreams”

Directed by Jeremy Teicher

Culture Representation: Taking place during the 2018 Winter Olympic Games in PyeongChang, South Korea, this romantic dramedy is about two white middle-class Americans—a 22-year-old Olympic cross-country skier and a 37-year-old Olympic volunteer dentist—who meet and have an undeniable attraction to each other.

Culture Clash: The potential romance has obstacles, such as the age difference, insecurities about the future, and the dentist being undecided over what to do about his suspended relationship with his fiancée.

Culture Audience: “Olympic Dreams” will appeal primarily to people who like independent movies that are more “slice of life” character studies than action-filled stories.

Alexi Pappas and Nick Kroll in “Olympic Dreams” (Photo courtesy of IFC Films)

Two socially awkward people meet and have a connection that could turn into a romance. This type of story can take place anywhere, but in the dramedy “Olympic Dreams,” the story takes place on location during the 2018 Winter Olympic Games in PyeongChang, South Korea, where the movie was actually filmed during the games. Most of the movie’s cast, except for star Nick Kroll, are real-life Olympic athletes. It adds to the realism of the film, which is shot almost like a documentary.

There is no melodrama in this quiet character study of a movie, and there are no scenes revolving around intense athletic competitions. Instead, “Olympic Dreams” takes a close look at the internal battles of insecurities that can prevent people from pursuing what they really want in life.

Directed by Jeremy Teicher, who co-wrote the screenplay with Nick Kroll and Alexi Pappas (a Greek American real-life Olympic long-distance runner), “Olympic Dreams” is the first narrative feature to be filmed inside the Olympic Village, where the athletes stay during the games. This access was made possible by the International Olympic Committee, which invited Pappas and three other Olympians who are also artists to participate in the Olympic Art Project. Pappas’ project was “Olympic Dreams,” and she is one of the producers of the film, along with Kroll, Teicher, Will Rowbotham and Nora May.

In the movie, Pappas plays Olympic cross-country skier Penelope, an American who’s there for her first Olympic games. She’s feeling anxious and isolated, since she doesn’t know anyone there. Meanwhile, Olympic volunteer dentist Ezra (played by Kroll), who’s also American, is feeling a different type of anxiety. He and his fiancée have recently decided to take a break from their relationship. He calls her and leaves an awkward message on her voice mail, by telling her that he doesn’t know if it’s appropriate to call her, but he wanted to tell her anyway that he’s settled in at the Olympic Village.

Ezra meets Penelope when he sees her sitting alone at the Olympic Village dining hall, and he asks if he could join her. She agrees, but Penelope (who’s quiet by nature) is feeling tense over her upcoming race that will happen that day. They make small talk by introducing themselves and saying why they’re at the Olympics, but Nick senses that Penelope is preoccupied and nervous, so he backs off, but not before giving her a dental-floss item as a friendly gesture.

Penelope has a disappointing placement that doesn’t qualify her for the next round. She calls her parents and pretends that she’s been making friends with other athletes who’ve been comforting her over her Olympic loss. In reality, Penelope is all alone. Although her Olympic roommate Maggie (played by real-life Olympic freestyle skier Morgan Schild) is friendly, Penelope hasn’t been able to make any friends in the short time that she’s been at the Olympics.

The next time Penelope and Ezra see each other, he invites her to get coffee with him. This time, he has another gift for her: a stuffed animal. And then they start to open up to each other more when he examines Penelope’s teeth during an appointment that she has with him. He tells her that it was always his dream to be at the Olympics. Back in America, he works at a clinic, but his goal is to one day have his own family practice.

Meanwhile, Penelope confesses that she’s uncertain about her future, now that her Olympic dreams have been dashed this year. She hasn’t decided yet if she wants to try out for the next Olympics in four years or if she wants to do something else with her life. At this point, it’s clear by the way that Penelope looks at Ezra that she’s starting to become romantically attracted to him, because she becomes more flirtatious and she asks him about his relationship status, sexual orientation, and if he has any children. (Ezra is straight and has no kids.)

Ezra also tells her about his fiancée and how the situation is complicated because even though they’re taking a break from each other, he doesn’t think he’s completely available either. Ezra and Penelope also tell each other their ages—he’s 37, and she’s 22—and Ezra looks a little concerned about the age difference, but he’s also feeling attracted to Penelope. They both encourage each other to pursue their dreams.

Although Ezra has a more extroverted personality than Penelope does, he has a nerdy, eager-to-please approach when he first tries to get to know people, so he’s found it difficult to make friends at the Olympic Village too. Penelope and Ezra sense that they’re both social misfits, and that’s part of their attraction to each other. Penelope invites Ezra to spend the day with her to do tourist sightseeing around town, since she now has a lot of free time on her hands, and Ezra readily accepts her offer.

Their first date is extended from a day trip to hanging out a night. Even though Ezra is much older than Penelope, he’s still a kid at heart because one of the places they go to during the nighttime part of the date is a center where people play video games. Ezra comments that watching people intensely play video games reminds him of his lonely youth when he would spend hours playing video games by himself. But Penelope has a different perspective: She says that people with that kind of passion and drive, even if it’s about winning video games, should be admired.

Is the relationship between Ezra and Penelope going to go anywhere? At the end of their first date, Penelope kisses him, but he pulls away. Then they get in an argument because Penelope criticizes him for not knowing what he’s going to do about his fiancée and for being not being more proactive about having his own family practice, while he criticizes her for being undecisive about her future. They end the date on this sour note.

Feeling a little down, Penelope’s confidence gets a boost when she meets a fellow Olympic athlete at the gym. He’s an American freestyle skier named Gus (played by real-life Olympic freestyle skier Gus Kenworthy), who introduces himself and invites Penelope to a party that’s being held in his building. Gus and Penelope start hanging out with each other, and when Penelope introduces Gus to Nick, it’s obvious that Nick is uncomfortable and jealous.

Much of the dialogue in “Olympic Dreams” looks improvised, since there are realistic awkward moments of silence or people talking over each other. Even though this movie takes place during the giant spectacle of the Olympics, it feels like a very intimate movie because the cast is so small and because there are no scenes of the massive crowds watching the games. There’s a scene that was filmed near an Olympic ski jump and a pivotal scene in an empty stadium that serve as reminders of the Olympic setting.

“Olympic Dreams” director Teicher used a hand-held camera and many close-ups in the scenes to covey the feeling of the movie being a portrait about these two people in a specific time in their lives. Although Ezra and Penelope are both American, it isn’t said in the movie exactly where they live in the United States.

And that leaves some lingering questions: If they get together, what happens if they live in cities that are very far away from each other? Will they have a long-distance relationship or will one of them move closer to the other? And do Ezra and Penelope think this relationship is worth pursuing in the first place? That last question is answered by the end of the movie, which makes it clear that the real Olympic dreams for Ezra and Penelope are the ones that can last longer than an athletic competition.

IFC Films released “Olympic Dreams” in select U.S. cinemas and on VOD on February 14, 2020.