Producers: Lee Leshen, Raymond Esposito, Derrick Kunzer and Josh Bender Director: Tommy Avallone Screenplay: Tommy Avallone Cast: Brian Dwyer, Danielle Dwyer, Waldo James Mysterious Dwyer, Mike Wert, Larry Anderson, Bridget Strub, Matt Rize, Jess Rize, Jess Rael, Daylin Leach, Mike Folmer, Staci Gruber, Dr. Dina and Charles Pollack Distributor: Double Windsor Films
Tommy Avallone’s film is a documentary promoting the legalization of medical marijuana (and its derivatives), but it’s not a simple polemic, instead making its argument in the form of a warm family drama. Despite a title that courts provocation, in the end it’s hard to imagine a viewer who won’t find “Waldo on Weed” more touching than troubling.
While young Waldo Dwyer takes pride of place in the title, and certainly proves a real scene-stealer, the real star is his father Brian, a lean, voluble fellow with a striking ginger mop of hair and matching beard. He’s introduced as one of the founders of a Philadelphia eatery called Pizza Brain, which he promotes with near fanatical zeal.
The professional excitement Brian exhibits, however, is nothing compared to his reaction when he learns that his wife Danielle is pregnant. He begins taking home movies that lead up to the birth of his son, who earns mention on the local news when he tips the scales at more than thirteen pounds in 2014.
For six months Waldo seems to be developing normally, but Brian and Danielle notice that he appears to have visual problems, and medical tests show that he’s afflicted with retinoblastoma, a cancer of the eye that requires chemotherapy. When the treatment causes him distress, his uncles Larry Anderson and Mike Wert, who are knowledgeable in such matters, suggest that Brian look into the possibility of adding cannabis oil to the infant’s medical regimen. After researching cases of children whose parents had decided to go that route, Brian decides to follow their example—though the medical use of marijuana is still against Pennsylvania law.
What follows is a tale in which Brian becomes a modest sort of drug smuggler, travelling to California to secure the product and mailing it home concealed in packages of birthday gifts. Happily it helps, and Waldo’s cancer goes into remission. But that’s not the end of the Dwyers’ story, because Brian’s decision to treat his son with cannabis oil causes friction with his parents and sister Bridget Strub (who, in a twist at the end, changes her opinion for reasons that won’t be revealed here), and his experience ultimately leads to the family’s move from Pennsylvania to the West Coast.
Avallone makes fine use of the home movies Brian made throughout his wife’s pregnancy and Waldo’s treatment, adding further commentary from Dwyer and coverage of his decision to become an activist for the legalization of medical marijuana in Pennsylvania—a segment that includes material featuring politicians involved in getting the measure passed. There are also clips from interviews with proponents and opponents of legalization, scientists, and those who assist the Dwyers along the way—including growers like Matt Rize. Derrick Kunzer, Pipus Larsen and Kenneth Guglielmino shot the later footage, and Avallone edited it all into a package that moves fairly smoothly. Andrew Thieboldeaux contributed the bouncy score.
Whatever your feelings about legalizing marijuana, “Waldo on Weed” is an irresistible story of a mother and father who will do whatever they think necessary to save their child.