Featuring Maria Bamford, Paul Scheer and the distinctive voice of Larry King, this rollicking, warm-hearted comedy short combines a marriage hitting the doldrums with the sucker-punch of vivid psychedelia, weaving both into a surprisingly insightful journey about love, honesty and authenticity.
Debbie and Doug are a married couple on the verge of a major transition. They’re trying to conceive a baby (with the help of a very frank app) but realize their problem is deeper: the spark in their marriage has gone out.
Looking to boost the passion in their marriage, they decide to venture into the wild, woolly world of therapeutic psychedelics with the help of a “spiritual crisis center” and an alternative therapist named Ariel, played by Bamford with equal parts “purple aura” and corporate aplomb.
The couple then heads out to the Californian desert to trip their way into improving their connection to one another. But when they drop a dose that is much, much stronger than usual, they’re in for a wild ride — one that takes them to deep places in both their marriage and psyches.
Written and directed by Scott Brown with co-writer Zack Gold, this short is as wild and zany as its title promises, tripping between timeframes, dimensions and visions with a surehanded sense of craft and a deft balance of tone. Visually, it’s as exuberant, Californian and colorful as a 60s acid trip, with a polish and sheen that is entirely contemporary, and the first part of the film matches this aesthetic with its pacing and editing, veering from one vision to another to replicate the psychedelic experience.
But underneath the groovy stylings, the writing and storytelling go to genuinely deep and vulnerable places. Of course, there are fantastic one-line zingers and terrific witty banter woven throughout. But the dialogue is anchored to a rich emotional journey, which is slowly but surely woven into the goofiness.
It starts with a hilarious sequence featuring a shining orb of light with the voice of Larry King, who prods the pair to look into their unconfronted fears and anxieties, both with themselves and one another. Soon they’re whisked off to another vision and realize that they both even saw the same divorce attorney, played by a slick, gleefully snarky Paul Scheer.
As Debbie and Doug, actors Angela Gulner and Zack Gold go to genuinely emotional and vulnerable places as they confront their fears and worst imaginings and give voice to them to one another. With this authenticity, it’s hard as viewers not to root for them and invest in their journeys as characters, even as they hit their darkest points of self-loathing and shame. But they soon learn to confront themselves and find their way back to one another — also with the help of a little psychedelic assistance and some far-out visions.
“Debbie and Doug Drop Acid In the Desert” is unabashedly fun, contemporary and entertaining in its wild dive into the world of micro-dosing, but what makes it rare and unique among comedy shorts is its emotional openness and intelligence. Funny, sincere and empathetic, it offers up with a resonant and universal message of acceptance and loving-kindness, both in self and with one another. The destination is ultimately wisdom and self-love, though some will have a little more help — and a woozier, crazier journey — in getting there.