Screenwriter: Jonathan Levine
Starring: Josh Peck, Ben Kingsley, Olivia Thirlby, Famke Janssen, Mary-Kate Olsen
Running Time: 99 mins
The year is 1994, Kurt Cobain has just died, O.J. is saturating the media, and in The Wackness, pot dealer Luke (Josh Peck) and his shrink Dr. Squires (Ben Kingsley) are spending their days getting wasted in the heat of a stifling New York summer. Their relationship is initially one of convenience - Squires trades counselling sessions for weed and Luke, depressed and claiming to be suicidal, is grateful for someone to spill his insecurities to. Over the course of this nostalgic coming of age drama the pair's bond becomes genuine and they begin to value each other for more than quick fixes to their drug/psychological disorders.
Luke is a fresh high school graduate who wheels an ice cream cart around Manhattan as cover for his pot business. Popular only for the drugs he can supply to whoever's in need, he's desperate to move on to college for a new start, and even more desperate to lose his virginity. Concurrently, Squires's marriage to Kristin (Famke Janssen, cigarette permanently in hand) is in crisis. The pair have drifted apart and are on the verge of divorce.
Tensions arise between the central pair when the young dealer falls for the shrink's free-spirited, coolly ambivalent daughter-in-law Steph. Luke's fumbling, puppy-dog romance with Steph is bittersweet and provides the likeable lead character with an obstacle he needs to overcome, but it's his male bonding with Kingsley's eccentric Squires that provides the thrust of the story.
Kingsley is notorious for revving his performances above and beyond the needs of his films. The Wackness, though, is no BloodRayne, and director Jonathan Levine, taking a career u-turn after All The Boys Love Mandy Lane, is able to keep the venerable Brit on a leash. As Peck's Luke yearns to grow up, Kingsley excels as a man intent on recapturing his youth - which he does in a much talked about lip-locking scene with Mary-Kate Olsen's dippy hippie (played more for laughs than titillation).
Peck, explosive and several stone heavier in his breakthrough film Mean Creek, isn't quite as revelatory here but his slack-jawed, streetwise painting of Luke gives the movie a heartbeat. His embarrassing admission to Steph - "I want to listen to Boyz II Men when I'm with you" - makes him all the more endearing. It's difficult to believe how someone so likeable has become such an unpopular high school figure.
The film's nostalgic pang for a decade still within touching distance is a little odd at first, yet Levine displays an acute eye for the era, garnishing the film with an excellent soundtrack featuring A Tribe Called Quest, Notorious B.I.G. and Mott The Hoople's Bowie-penned hit 'All The Young Dudes'. By utilising rap, Levine has the perfect genre to compliment the two lead characters. Hip-hop's idea of sampling the old to create something new is a thread that runs through Squires and Luke's relationship.
Stuck between the grotty urban landscape of Taxi Driver and the shimmering metropolis of the Spider-Man movies, '90s New York evolves as a vital character in The Wackness. Levine and cinematographer Petra Korner filter the Big Apple through a mirage-like summer haze, and their shot of the Twin Towers in the closing minutes is a poignant reminder of how suddenly the world, and people's lives, can change.
Boiled down, The Wackness is Juno reconfigured for boys - a coming of age story for Generation Y with unexpected turns, unresolved relationships and the sense that perhaps the protagonists still have much pondering to do after the credits roll, all anchored by a confident performance from a too-cool-for-school young lead.
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