Review: The Wackness
PLOT: Over a long, hot summer in 1994, a recent high school graduate plays video games, drinks 40s, slings pot and attends sessions with his shrink (who's also a client). As he tries to figure out what to do with his life he falls in love and begins to experience what life is for the first time.
(The following review for THE WACKNESS, in theaters now, originally ran as part of our Tribeca Film Festival coverage.)
REVIEW: If the lines, the overpacked houses and annoying film snobs are the worst part about film festivals, movies like THE WACKNESS are the best part. THE WACKNESS, which screened as part of the Tribeca Film Festival, is the best film at the festival and one of the best films I've seen so far this year.
The movie stars a wonderfully cast Josh Peck as homeboy Luke Shapiro, a white kid graduating from high school in 1994 New York City. What few friends he has are leaving for the summer and he's stuck at home playing "Zelda," discovering Notorious BIG, smoking joints and attending sessions with his therapist Dr. Squires (Ben Kingsley) who accepts the weed Luke sells on the side as payment. Through Squires, Luke meets the doctor's stepdaughter Stephanie (Olivia Thirlby, JUNO), the only one of his classmates who's still in the City over the summer. Through mutual boredom they begin to hang out and hook up.
While it would appear that the central relationship would be between Luke and Stephanie, the more pivotal relationship is that of Luke and Squires. Luke is a kid who seemingly wants to grow up. He becomes fascinated with a line his doctor throws at him about becoming a man. Squires is an adult who desperately wants to be a kid again. Peck and Kingsley play off each other brilliantly and Kingsley delivers his finest work in years (I almost forgive him for BLOODRAYNE).
Both Luke and Squires are looking for love and Luke seems to find it in Stephanie. She follows him as he sells weed out of his frozen ice truck. They share beer in Central Park and hit up her family's vacation home in Fire Island. Their scenes on the island are hilarious and heart-warming as we finally see Luke coming out of his emotional coma ("You make me want to listen to Boyz II Men," he tells her). But, as you might expect, things don't always go smoothly. There's a beautifully shot, bittersweet moment in a beach shower between Luke and Stephanie that will break your heart because you know what's going to happen before Luke does.
As a doofy white kid from the mid-90s who listened to Tribe Called Quest and played "Zelda" myself, I can say writer/director Jonathan Levine has done a wonderful job of bringing the subculture to the screen. While not everyone can relate to Luke on as many levels as I can, we've all certainly gone through the same experiences. That may sound like another standard coming-of-age dramedy, THE WACKNESS is anything but. Levine takes the rite of passage genre and remixes it like many of the mix tapes Luke pops in his ghetto blaster. As you'd expect it's equal parts funny, charming, touching, sad and contemplative in a way that few movies of similar themes are able to pull off. It's what I hoped JUNO would be.
The title of the movie comes from Stephanie telling Luke to stop worrying about what will happen to them after summer's over. He, she says, continues to focus on "the wackness" in a particular situation and that he really should be looking at the flipside, at "the dopeness" of life. There's been a lot of wackness so far in 2008 but THE WACKNESS truly is the dopeness.