Review: Dunst shines through the weed fog of hypnotic, flimsy 'Woodshock'

Kirsten Dunst

Kirsten Dunst Photo by Merrick Morton, courtesy of A24

Local writer F. Scott Fitzgerald famously said there are no second acts in American lives. But all good Hollywood stories have three acts, and Kirsten Dunst is making the most of them. (In fairness to Scotty, she’s had much better luck in Los Angeles than he did.)

Dunst was a prominent child actress who made the difficult transition from precocious kid to blockbuster movie star. Even rarer was her subsequent transition from rom-com lead and Spider-Man’s girlfriend to arthouse object of fascination. Her three-film partnership with director Sofia Coppola, as well as collaborations with Lars von Trier and Jeff Nichols, showcased terrific range in some singular movies.

Dunst is pretty much the everything of Woodshock, the intermittently hypnotic and ponderous debut feature from Kate and Laura Mulleavy. Dunst stars as Theresa, a gloomy employee at the world’s most lurid legal pot dispensary.

In the opening moments she pours droplets from a mysterious vial onto a baggie of weed, which she rolls into a joint to be smoked by her terminally ill mother. The exact nature of the drug remains a pivotal mystery, a la Infinite Jest’s ominously potent DMZ. It seems to be a powerful palliative teetering on suicide dose.

Following her mother’s death, Theresa goes back to work at the dispensary for her boss, Keith (Pilou Asbæk, Game of Thrones’ notorious leather-pants model). Asbæk is Woodshock’s only other major presence, and his predatory playfulness gives the movie some much-needed energy. When he lets a pet bird perch on a pen he holds in his mouth, the goofy sight is undercut by a foreboding sensation that he might swallow it whole, feathers and all.

The increasingly disassociated Theresa fends off creepy Keith and interacts with two other dispensary customers, the cartoonishly fresh-faced Johnny (Jack Kilmer) and a cryptic, David Lynchian old man, ably played by Steph DuVall but begging for the late Harry Dean Stanton.

A mixup with the pot orders of two customers leads to what you might call the action of the movie, but the Mulleavys are flagrantly disinterested in narrative momentum. This is a dreamy, interior mood piece most concerned with pairing luminously trippy imagery with the varying tones of Dunst’s performance as a woman with an increasingly tenuous grasp on reality.

No doubt, the Mulleavys have a lush, striking aesthetic. The sisters, also prominent fashion designers, bend their brilliant imagery around Dunst, who’s alternately drenched in blazing neon greens and reds and cast in soft white lights as she colors her lips with mashed berries.

The Mulleavys barely even attempt to justify this handsome but meandering collection of surrealistic sights beyond the sensory experience. The story’s flimsiness is punctuated by an act of violence that feels like a perfunctory nod to the concept of a climax, almost arbitrarily placed where the violence is supposed to go.

The directors have full control over their striking, ethereal cinematography, but their loose grip on the narrative plays more like uncertainty than willful ambiguity. You probably can’t remember Woodshock, even if you really were there.

Directors: Kate and Laura Mulleavy
Starring: Kirsten Dunst, Joe Cole, Pilou Asbæk
Rated: R
Theater: Opens Friday, Lagoon Cinema