July 4, 2007
“On the weekends, on the three day weekends, I’ll be honest with you, depression is a mother?!@#$%,” one of the X users in ROLLING states with profound pretense. Much of ROLLING has all the depth of a puddle, because the subjects of this film are admittedly shallow. Addiction makes everyone petty and selfish; well, maybe they were that way to begin with.

Employing a variety of formats (film and video) and the faux documentary technique, ROLLING is a consistently interesting take on a somewhat modern epidemic: Ecstasy (or “X”) addiction. Different walks of life cross paths in search of and while using drugs but principally dropping a tab of the latest
feel good designer substance. Approaching the issue by interviewing actors playing users and dramatizing their past experiences with Ecstasy, ROLLING is a fairly realistic depiction of casual drug use that ultimately turns into something regular. And the more they use the more they use. Man, one
white monkey leads to a dove and then to a dragon and if you make it, ultimately to a mother!@#$A%&.

While at the Tribeca Film Festival this year, I realized (belatedly) that there was a difference between a faux documentary and a mockumentary. After a screening of THE POUGHKEEPSIE TAPES, I asked director John Erik Dowdle whether he was concerned that the whole mockumentary thing was a played out genre. He corrected me by saying that his film would be better classified as a “faux doc” instead of a “mock.” Apparently, the obvious difference is that a mock is a comedic take (ala Christopher Guest) and a faux is something more serious. Therefore, ROLLING would certainly be considered the faux variety.

At times, the fake interviews in ROLLING seem obviously staged, although the message is steadily authentic. The attractive cast all appears to have had experiences with use of the drug whether through use or observing those that do. I haven’t received press notes, but I wouldn’t be surprised if a drug use expert was involved providing the actors with suggestions as to body language and facial expressions as the high is artificially dramatized. For example, Clinton Cargile, who plays a character in the film also named Clinton, seems to really be on Ecstasy throughout much of the film. And
naturally, there is a lot of physical contact required of the cast in order to convey accurately the party environment associated with the drug both inside the dance club and elsewhere.

While there isn’t much, if any, nudity, sex plays a significant role in the film with everyone constantly acting on their erotic impulses. This leads to more than one compromising position, but appears to be a lot of hedonistic fun, which raises troubling questions. Is regular use of this drug a bad thing? Most of the characters in ROLLING would answer immediately “NO” or that they could care less. Part of their reaction is directly related to their age (although the players here range from high school to early 30s). But from watching ROLLING, one might come away with the idea that the
long-term effects of Ecstasy use are nil.

Certainly, director Billy Samoa Saleebey wants this film to be a cautionary tale, and understands the risk of glamorizing the X life-style (creeping fearfully into Brett Easton Ellis territory). But ROLLING could merely be chapter one which ends on a decidedly down note, vividly displaying the risks associated with taking unregulated and possibly unsafe doses of the drug. And the message of ROLLING might be less anti-drug as it is back-handedly pro-legalization. After all, like many designer drugs, there was a time when Ecstasy didn’t fit into a particular schedule of illegal drugs and the laws had to be changed to include them. Inevitably, making a thing illegal inflates its price and has a dramatic effect on the quality causing the substance more dangerous to consume. To that extent, ROLLING manages to be cautionary. But a follow up sequel might demonstrate the ongoing damage that regular use of and addiction to this and other party meds can have on the lives of America’s bright and beautiful youth.

ROLLING could even be a series (of films or something for television), because, after all, one pill leads to another.

Jonathan W. Hickman