Whether you partake in its use or not, the fact is that marijuana is becoming legal in many parts of the United States. Its increasing acceptance and financial contributions to the states which allow it as a mechanism of commerce are still controversial; making the subject matter ideal for greater exploration. What is perhaps unintuitive yet incredibly enjoyable is the presentation of this topic in the full-length feature film Mary Jane: A Musical Potumentary. Among the many pleasing aspects of this production is the allowance for depicting the lives of many whom are involved in this industry but seldom have their perspectives presented. Standing out in this regard with this film is Maya and the talented Greek born actress Yulie Archontaki who brings her to life in Mary Jane: A Musical Potumentary. Amidst all of the financial turmoil of the marijuana industry, legal and illegal, Maya depicts the challenges of an immigrant in modern day America and how opportunity and restriction often share the same engine. Archontaki stands out remarkably among a cast that includes some highly notable costars, signaling that the gravitas the actress possesses is formidable on a Hollywood scale.
Humboldt County in Northern California is the setting for this film best described as a “Potumentary.” Through the actions of the characters such as the film’s namesake Mary Jane and others, the audience gains an education into the complexities for a community built around this business; most specifically whether its legalization will help or hinder those involved. While Mary Jane desires the open commerce and legal authorization of the pot business, her son Bill and many others fear that it will destroy the financial viability of it for the smaller independent grower. Among those who reinforce this notion in Bill is Maya, a hitchhiker he meets on the road and with whom he enters into an extramarital affair.
Archontaki’s work in the stage production version of Mary Jane: A Musical Potumentary convinced those involved in the film version that she was a necessary part of this new iteration. Beyond her remarkable acting skill, Yulie holds an IDB1 Flamenco and Spanish Dance degree from the Spanish Dance Society. This skill pairing was highly attractive to Mary Jane’s director John Howarth, known for his work on the BAFTA Innovation award winning “Walking with Dinosaurs” as well as his Emmy nomination for “The Lost World.” Having worked with the likes of Meryl Streep (on “The Cutting Tradition” for which he received the Best Director award from the Philadelphia Documentary & Fiction Festival), Howarth’s decision to utilize Yulie as Maya speaks to her convincing talent. Leaning into her accent and dancing talent were benevolent parts of manifesting Maya as the actress relates, “John kept reminding me to be more of myself, to keep my authenticity. Maya is an immigrant from a broken home. She is a survivor. If we look at Maya in this way, then everything else she does can be justified. Even her pursuing an affair with Bill is done because of her need to live a better life, whether that means more money or status or access to the United States.” From the time Bill picks up Maya and offers her a job as a trimmer, Maya’s need to stabilize herself under tense circumstances is clear. This ranges from pursuing an affair with Bill to encouraging him to maintain the illegal nature of his business because it will ensure her work and higher pay rate. During the tense scene in which Maya and Bill’s wife (Big Mama) actually come to physical blows, it occurs because the other workers realize Maya’s self-preservation nature is paramount at any cost. Archontaki has sculpted in Maya a woman who can be interpreted as a villain or sympathetically justifiable depending on the life experiences of the viewer. Yulie delivers one of the most transfixing characters in Mary Jane: A Musical Potumentary; a tremendous feat alongside such costars as Edward Asner, the five-time Golden Globe Winning actor and twenty-time Emmy nominee known for his iconic work on The Mary Tyler Moore Show and the two time Oscar winning film Up.
Though not the focus of Mary Jane: A Musical Potumentary, there is an undeniable undertone of the plight of immigrants in present day America. The production itself reflects this international tone with its British director and cast members from the U.S., India, Canada, Greece, and Iran.
Writer – Angela Cooper
Update: Mary Jane is currently available on Amazon Prime.