In the interest of getting “hard” copies of my work under one roof, I plan to spend the next few weeks posting the entire archive of my film journalism here on ScullyVision. With due respect to the many publications I’ve written for, the internet remains quite temporary, and I’d hate to see any of my work disappear for digital reasons. As such, this gargantuan project must begin! I don’t want to do it. I hate doing it. But it needs to be done. Please note that my opinions, like everyone’s, have changed a LOT since I started, so many of these reviews will only represent a snapshot in time. Objectivity has absolutely no place in film criticism, at least not how I do it.
Originally posted on Cinema76.
The title Waldo on Weed is a bit of a misnomer, as the substance at the center of the film is not marijuana as you would typically think of it, but rather CBD oil, a product of the cannabis plant known as the latest miracle cure for a variety of ailments. Unlike a lot of other similar health remedies, studies are beginning to show that what we’ve been told about CBD is proving to be true. This misnomer, however, is certainly being employed to catch the viewer’s ear. The term “weed” is one which still triggers alarm in the minds of many, and it’s this exact stereotype that Tommy Avallone’s latest documentary is looking to help dissolve.
When Waldo Dwyer was born, it wasn’t his use of CBD oil that gained him notoriety. Nope, it was his size. Weighing in at 13.5 pounds, he was a very big baby (I, myself was considered big at just 8.5 lbs). Add to that the fact that his father was Brian Dwyer, owner and operator of Pizza Brain, Philadelphia’s premiere pizza museum/restaurant, and Waldo’s story was one designed for Internet fame. But unfortunately for the Dwyer family, things were about to change. At just 6 months old, Waldo was diagnosed with a form of eye cancer. The good news is that chemotherapy could be employed to cure the cancer. The bad news is that chemotherapy takes a pretty hard toll on the body of any patient, let alone a newborn. When young Waldo is physically waylaid by radiation therapy, his parents decide to supplement his treatment with the aforementioned CBD oil which, at the time, was completely illegal.
Waldo on Weed follows the Dwyer family as they make the decision to use alternative treatment, obtain CBD oil through a ballsy shipping scheme, and then try to advise friends and relatives of their decision. It’s this third part of the process that proves to be the most difficult. Since marijuana was not yet approved for medical use at the time Waldo was in chemo, the stigma that the concept of “illicit substance” carried was strong. It’s a stigma that remains strong even today, at a time when state after state is approving use of cannabis products as medicine. In fact, it’s this stigma, even in the face of increasing amounts of data that run opposed to it, that prevents not just legalization of cannabis, but further study as well.
Despite being primarily about the account of Waldo Dwyer, Waldo on Weed spends some time exploring the sociopolitical angle of cannabis usage, to mostly strong effect. While much of the film’s substance comes from the camera that Brian and Danielle Dwyer received as a gift to help document their path into parenthood, Avallone punctuates this footage with a variety of talking heads from all sides of the legalization aisle, making it a point not to let the film editorialize on the subject. Oftentimes, the parade of talking heads end up in conversation with one another through the edit. A scientist will extoll the virtues of the anecdotal evidence she’s seen for the use of CBD oil, and within seconds we will hear from an activist who sees the product as nothing more than snake oil. The film naturally has a bias toward its subject, but never does it prevent the opposing voice from being heard. For a film that takes the position that anecdotal evidence should be a call for more research rather than a reason to doubt new medicines, giving the naysayers some screen time ultimately serves to strengthen this thesis. If there’s one thing everyone can agree on, it’s that more information is always a good thing, and as such, researching the medicinal properties of cannabis is essential.
The glue that keeps Waldo on Weed from disassembling into more typical documentary territory is the love that the immediate Dwyer family clearly has for one another. I don’t have kids, but the list of challenges I would surmount just to keep my cat healthy and happy is pretty much never ending, and from what I’ve heard, parenthood takes that same drive and multiplies it exponentially. Watching Brian and Danielle grow from excited young parents to warriors for a cause is about the most heartwarming thing one can witness. No matter where you stand on the marijuana-as-medicine debate, you cannot deny the altruistic intentions of the Dwyers, nor can you deny the benefits the plant has granted young Waldo. While perhaps our titular little fighter is a bit young to wax philosophical on the topic (at times he feels a bit absent from the film), I’d love for the filmmakers to check back in with the Dwyers in the coming years. I’d love to know what Waldo thinks of it all once he’s old enough to understand what he went through. Given the forthright personalities of the Dwyers as depicted here, I’m sure we’ll be hearing from them regardless.
On a personal note, I urge you to do some research yourself on the medicinal properties of the cannabis plant. It’s an exciting area of research, and there’s going to be a lot more of it in the coming years. When it comes to hot button issues like marijuana legalization, misinformation is the biggest enemy to progress. Don’t be misinformed. Waldo on Weed is a great place to start your research.
Waldo on Weed is available for pre-order on iTunes.