The new documentary Have a Good Trip arrives on Netflix at an interesting nexus point in history. People are quarantined, creating a captive audience for streaming; the culture wars are ongoing but also sort of jumbled — with “plandemic” conspiracy theorists on both the liberal and conservative ends of the spectrum; and psychedelics (the topic at hand) are seeing a therapeutic resurgence, paired with increased legalization. Considering how the factors behind the first psychedelic wave (the Civil Rights era, the Vietnam War, and mass distrust of the establishment) match up with our current situation (the continued fight for intersectional justice, COVID-19, and mass distrust of the establishment) the documentary could have been a harbinger of a new era of self-exploration via controlled substances.
That clearly wasn’t the goal here, though.
Instead, director Donick Cary (Silicon Valley, New Girl, The Simpsons, etc.) focuses on making us laugh and getting a little weird with famous entertainers who are unafraid to tell cool drug stories. Of which there seems to be no shortage. The list of guest stars includes Sting, Ad-Rock, A$AP Rocky, Nick Kroll, Rosie Perez, Natasha Lyonne, Ben Stiller, and — actually, let’s just do this:
Two of the most notable (and engaging) entries on that list are Anthony Bourdain and Carrie Fisher — who died in 2018 and 2016, respectively. Seeing them on screen, then seeing their worst trips brought to life by actors is still a little jarring. And it’s hard not to wonder, in the case of Bourdain’s death from suicide, if this movie has been sitting on ice for a while in order to respect the dead without having to cut out his madcap entry. Or even if it was delayed for Fisher’s sake first and then again for Bourdain’s and just happened to land at this exact cultural moment.
Regardless, Have a Good Trip, streaming now, feels well-timed as a quarantine watch. It’s based around famous people recounting their psychedelic use paired with re-creations that utilize either actors or animation. Bourdain, for example, is played by Adam DeVine — who portrays the travel host during a Hunter Thompson-inspired acid and quaalude-fueled night in a seedy motel with a hitchhiking exotic dancer. Fellow Workaholics co-creator Blake Anderson is in the scene too and the chaos they serve up together is probably the doc’s funniest segment. (Though watching Natasha Leggero crawl around Central Park as Princess Leia is definitely in the running.)
These storytelling bits are stitched together with scenes of a heavily mutton-chopped Nick Offerman teaching a little psychedelics 101, various comedians offering practical advice on how to not freak out while high, a scientist chipping in with a breezy breakdown of the chemical processes in play, and a leather-jacketed Adam Scott starring in early-90s style anti-drug PSAs. It’s all a little random but never unfunny by any means. Offerman always thrives in narrator/ringmaster roles like this and Scott’s PSA segments are loyal to the genre with the absurdity dialed up just a few notches.
The PSAs also contain reenactments of their own, which include Haley Joel Osment in an extended cameo. Odd? Yes. Enjoyable? Also yes.
Throughout Have a Good Trip, only Sting, Bourdain, Fisher, and A$AP Rocky really explore how they learned to feel more fully themselves for having had their experiences. The potential for profundity within the whole psychedelic experience is most left as an afterthought. As someone keenly interested in the counterculture, I missed the authority of someone like mushroom guru Paul Stamets or perhaps archival Ram Dass footage to offer backstory and context (Timothy Leary is mentioned but only for a second or two). More robust insight into how these drugs have influenced art, music, culture, or psychology for the past 50-odd years or how they might affect our world in the future would have been a nice touch, too.
Alas, that wasn’t the vision and, ultimately, I get it. Shaggy, loose, and funny is the MO here and it works as such. Sillyness abounds. The stranger aspects of tripping are embraced wholeheartedly. If that approach sounds like fun to you, it probably will be. It was plenty of fun for me, even if there were threads I would have loved to see Cary tug on.
If you’re still on the fence, I understand. Madcap psychedelic movies, like psychedelics themselves, aren’t for everyone. How about this: use the picture below — of Nick Kroll covered in seaweed while recounting a mushroom trip — as your litmus test. If you think that photo is funny, Have a Good Trip is probably a ride you’ll be glad to take.
‘Have a Good Trip’ is streaming on Netflix now.