By Alex McPherson
Colin Thompson’s coming-of-age tale, “Light Years,” is an enjoyable romp down memory lane that can’t quite reach the emotional heights it aspires to.
The film centers on Kevin (Thompson) a thirty-something man taking magic mushrooms and embarking on a vision quest to visit Briggs (Russell Posner), his deceased friend who’s based on someone Thompson knew in real life.
Kevin is transported back to a rambunctious night from his high school years — featuring an uncomfortable house party, family drama, and, you guessed it, a fair amount of ‘shrooms. In a psychedelic twist, Young Kevin (Christopher Gray) becomes Adult Kevin, and nearly everyone in his drug-induced flashback (with the exception of Briggs and Kevin’s sister, Em (Makenzie Leigh)) is played by Thompson himself. Whoa, dude, far out!
While “Light Years” fumbles a balance between silliness and heartfelt sentimentality, the film satisfies as light entertainment. There’s definitely some fun to be had in watching these characters engage in juvenile shenanigans, especially when so many of them are played by the same actor.
Indeed, Thompson has ample opportunity to flex his acting chops as he embodies several different characters, most of whom have their own distinctive personality. Although the novelty eventually wears off, his efforts are commendable. This stylistic choice even holds metaphorical weight, with Briggs being one of the only characters not played by Thompson.
Light Years also simulates the effects of ‘shrooms through several cinematic techniques, including eye-popping stop-motion animation and time manipulation. While I’ve never taken ‘shrooms, the film certainly succeeds in visualizing the zonked-out head spaces of the central characters.
The humor itself is hit or miss, however, and assumes that viewers find this sort of drug use humorous. Lacking nuance, it grows tiresome by the end of the film’s 81-minute runtime — too often reverting to immaturity over actual intelligence.
Luckily, Light Years has more on its mind than depicting characters out-of-their-mind. In the vein of films like Superbad and Booksmart, Thompson’s film ultimately revolves around Kevin and Briggs’ friendship, and the life lessons they learn from each other.
They depend on one another to stay afloat and maintain a positive outlook on life. At the time of the flashback, Kevin is having a quarter-life crisis, unsure of his future and reeling emotionally from his parents’ divorce. He finds solace in hanging out with friends — especially Briggs, whose spastic personality ensures there’s rarely a dull moment, particularly when under the influence. Thompson and Posner have great chemistry, and their back-and-forth dialogue at times reminds me of Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon in The Trip, as they indulge in over-the-top impressions and play off each other with chuckle-worthy results.
Unfortunately, Kevin and Briggs need more depth to add weight to the tragedy down the road. Thompson’s small-scale approach works to the story’s detriment as a result, spending too much time with side characters lacking development and oversimplifying potentially impactful subject matter in favor of providing comedy. Kevin’s arc would have benefited from expanding the timeline to show how the lessons learned in his vision quest impact his present-day life. Additionally, the film neglects to make a clear, meaningful statement on addiction and drug use, coming to ambiguous conclusions. Yes, a more dramatic approach would have mellowed the film’s laid back atmosphere, but as a memorial to a lost friend, it feels odd to omit these details in favor of accessible entertainment value.
At the end of the day, Light Years is a watchable stoner comedy that features some clever cinematic tricks and an endearing central duo, but fails to truly stand out from the pack.
“Light Years” (2019), written and directed by Colin Thompson, is adventure with a TV-14 designation. It runs 1 hr. 21 minutes and is available video on demand on Nov. 17. Alex’s Grade: B-
Lynn Venhaus has had a continuous byline in St. Louis metro region publications since 1978. She is a Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic, currently reviews films for Webster-Kirkwood Times and KTRS Radio, covers entertainment for PopLifeSTL.com and co-hosts podcast PopLifeSTL.com…Presents, and writes features and news for Belleville News-Democrat and contributes to other publications. She is a member of CCA, AWFJ and St. Louis Film Critics Association. She is a founding member of the St. Louis Theater Circle.