Have you ever wanted anything so badly that you were willing to do almost anything to get it? To traverse any terrain no matter how treacherous, to endure the cruel ravages of the elements, to best any foe who stood between you and your object of desire? Have you ever been possessed by a craving so great that the getting of the thing you wanted became more important than the thing itself?
Kumar Patel and Harold Lee, the protagonists of Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle, certainly have, and their hash-induced quest for White Castle burgers through the streets and the wilds of New Jersey almost attains an air of myth. An air of really, really silly myth.
It’s easy to make superficial comparisons between Harold and Kumar and Dude, Where’s My Car?–both are comedies centering around a couple of stoners experiencing a night of absurd mayhem. Harold and Kumar even pokes fun at the comparison itself late in the movie. But while Dude, Where’s My Car? used its protagonists’ stupidity and naviete as the basis of its humor, Harold and Kumar finds its funny in the fact that the title characters are both very smart–far too smart, actually, to be spending an entire night wasted on trying to find the burgers of their dreams.
Harold and Kumar deals quite a bit with prejudice and the assumptions we make about a person’s abilities and attitudes based solely on the color of his or her skin. This movie both plays with and against that notion. Both Kumar and Harold are from minorities that many Americans typically associate with great intelligence and ambition–Harold’s Asian (Korean, specifically) and Kumar’s Indian. And at first glance, both seem to fit into their roles perfectly: Harold’s a junior investment banker and Kumar’s applying to medical school.
We quickly see, though, that no matter their ancestral hertiage, both guys are fully American and deal with the same burden most educated American men in their mid-20s have to face: What (and who) do I want to be? Both Kumar and Harold find themselves in the positions they’re in because those positions are what’s expected of them, not because that’s where they really wanted to be. Harold hates his job and he doesn’t much like other Koreans (at least the ones we meet in the movie), perhaps because they seem to so enthustiastically want what he has and doesn’t want). Kumar doesn’t want to follow his father and brother into medicine, though not out of any distaste for it or a lack of ability (he demonstrates phenomenal potential as a surgeon during one scene). he simply wants to forge his own path.
What both of them want most at this point in their lives is to shrug their responsibilities off their backs, get stoned, and find a White Castle. (Well, Kumar does…Harold needs some convincing. Kumar’s continued bad influence on Harold spurs most of the movie’s plot complications.)
This discussion of goals and desires and the weight of expectations really only distracts us from a more important question, though: is the movie funny? Yes, yes it is–sometimes very much so. The middle section drags a bit, but overall the laughs come pretty consistently. Kal Penn (Kumar) and John Cho (Harold) are both likable leads. Penn invests Kumar with an easy charm, confidence and charisma–it’s completely understandable why Harold would ignore his better judgment to follow Kumar’s lead.
|Harold and Kumar Go To White Castle (2004)|
|Written and Directed By:
Two members in particular of the supporting cast milk solid laughs out of small parts. Neil Patrick Harris, in a self-scathing turn as himself (or a drugged-out version of himself, anyway), likely finally trashed his “Doogie Howser” persona once and for all. And Ryan Reynolds kills as a male nurse turned on by Kumar’s surgical skills; Reynolds never seems like he’s trying to be funny…he just is. He reminds me of Jason Lee but just a little better looking and a little less angry.
Harold and Kumar Go To White Castle unabashedly promotes smoking marijuana, it gleefully pokes fun at the racial stereotypes of any number of ethnicities, it revels in its use of breasts purely as sexual objects–this movie is about as far from politically correct as Michael Jackson is from reality. But it manages to slide a message in between the dick and fart jokes: everyone needs to decide for themselves exactly what it is they want and go for it, whatever it is, even if that goal isn’t what’s expected of them…or, sometimes, even if it is.