“Waldo on Weed” takes its title and its tone from its host and star.
Brian Dwyer starts the film as a media-savvy Philadelphia pizza entrepreneur, a thin ginger-bearded goofball who knew how to get attention for Brain Pizza, his landmark pizza paraphernalia-bedecked eatery, and for his big whopping baby.
Waldo James Mysterious Dwyer was over 13 pounds when he was born. Yeah, that made the local news.
But when Brian and wife Danielle’s little boy was diagnosed with retinal cancer at six months of age, Dad’s demeanor turns determined. And the giddy slice-of-life documentary becomes a years-long odyssey, documented via “dad-cam,” seeking treatment for their baby, hoping for a miracle, “smuggling drugs” cross country to put “Waldo on Weed.”
Dwyer maintains his affable, enthusiastic presence throughout. But as the journey from joy to worry, desperation to activism plunges on, he grows more subdued as the film progresses.
“Waldo on Weed” evolves into an upbeat story about a family, and a very little (OK, he started big) boy who have been through the wringer.
Talking directly to the camera, taking it into his (former) business, the OB-GYN, and then into doctor’s offices, chemo and everywhere else the movie goes, Dwyer narrates “Waldo” as if he’s talking to the adult child, born in 2014, diagnosed with “a crazy rare childhood eye cancer” the same year.
“We’re gonna save that eye,” he tells the camera, and the kid.
A turning point? Waldo’s pot-enthusiast/post-proselytizer uncles have a word with Dad. CBD oil might help with the chemo of traditional cancer treatment, and — anecdotally — with the cancer itself.
As they live in Philly, where strict anti-marijuana drug laws were still in force, that means they’ll have to travel to early-adapter/early-legalizer California to buy the pot-extract and figure out a way to get it home.
Yes, they use the good ol’U.S. Postal Service’s help “smuggling” their “illegal” drugs cross-country — packed in kiddie birthday party supplies.
Tommy Avallone’s film shapes Brian’s quixotic journey into a life quest, complete with medical experts, politicians and family members who figure in the larger story of a long-legal medical remedy, made illegal in the last century and only just-now being re-legalized and researched for its “natural” medicinal properties.
None of that was the case when Waldo got sick. The Dwyers couldn’t tell their doctors, and even as Waldo improved, it wasn’t a subject Brian’s conservative family approved of.
“Waldo on Weed” pokes at the politicization of marijuana and more or less embraces the “miracle drug” mania that has surrounded CBD and “legalized weed.”
Harvard’s Dr. Staci Gruber of Marijuana Investigations for Neuroscientific Discovery (MIND) program at McLean Hospital in Boston is here to legitimize the research, and remind us that “every great discovery began with anecdotal evidence.”
And Snoop Dogg’s “Dr. Dina,”a California advocate for CBD treatments and legalized pot everywhere, was on hand to help Brian with his original hook-up. Pot entrepreneur Matt Rize figures prominently in the narrative, too.
Governor Tom Wolf of Pennsylvania is here. And stay through the closing credits. Which hostess of “The View” executive produced “Waldo on Weed?”
We miss the cute, upbeat tone of the film’s opening chapter in its latter stages, as the family becomes CBD refugees (people move where the legal drug that’s helping them is). But “Waldo on Weed” is still the most adorable piece of cinematic advocacy for legalizing pot ever filmed.
Everybody lobbying against that — one such lobbyist is interviewed — should be sentenced to watching “Weed” and looking in little Waldo’s eyes before they make one more self-justified argument against legalization.
MPAA Rating: unrated, some profanity
Cast: Brian Dwyer, Danielle Dwyer, Matt Rize, Dr. Dina, Dr. Staci Gruber, Governor Tom Wolf
Credits: Directed by Tommy Avallone. An Endeavor Content release.
Running time: 1:26