The Wackness

Director    Jonathan Levine
Starring    Josh Peck, Ben Kingsley, Olivia Thirlby, Famke Janssen, Mary-Kate Olsen
Release    3 JUL (US) 29 AUG (UK)    Certificate 15
3 stars


2nd September 2008

The trailer for The Wackness conveys an impression of some god-awful, coming-of-age, too-cool-for-school, stoner-slacker NYC nonsense, nor is it helped by the worst title of the year. But wait.... is that.... Ben Kingsley? What the hell is Sir Ben doing in this film? Has he lost it? Was he duped into a cameo? Fortunately first impressions can be deceptive. This is actually a decent film, far more credible than the trailer would have you believe and a deserving winner of the Audience Award at this year's Sundance Film Festival.

New Yorker Luke Shapiro (Peck) has just graduated from high school and faces a long hot summer stretched out in front of him before he heads off to university. The year 1994, and director Jonathan Levine (cheap 'n' cheerless slasher All The Boys Love Mandy Lane) takes us on a nostalgic jaunt down memory lane with great attention to detail. Is it too soon to be reminiscing about the '90s? Not when you see just how much teenage life has changed. Pagers not mobiles, Beverly Hills 90210 not The OC, Cobain not that asshat Doherty, baggies not skinnies, mix tapes not MP3s, Tetris, Game Boys, Forrest Gump, The Notorious B.I.G. and no bloody Facebook.

Luke makes cash dealing weed from an ice cream cart and his supplies are constantly in demand, but sadly Luke is not - he's a loner with a bad case of the blues. He seeks solace from pill-popping shrink Dr. Squires (Kingsley) who requests he keep him supplied with weed. Squires is an ageing libertine attempting to recapture his youth through his new protégé and the two strike up a mutually dependent friendship, helping one another through the tough times with a bottomless supply of drugs and booze. They stumble through various scrapes together, including a night behind bars as they attempt to meet women and numb their angst with narcotics. Squires gets lucky when he makes it to 'second base' with a spaced-out hippy half his age, played by one of the Olsen twins (it doesn't matter which).

Meanwhile Luke is falling for Squires' stepdaughter Stephanie (Olivia Thirlby), having family troubles, discovering who he is and other such obligatory teenage larks. Peck's remains a fairly flat character going through the rite-of-passage motions, but Kingsley's doc faces his own problems as well, learning and changing as much as his patient during the course of the tale. Kingsley is by far the best thing about this film and his depiction of Squires is eccentric yet measured, perfectly judged. Sir Ben has one of the most weathered faces in cinema, up there with Jack Nicholson: his shrewd eyes are set in a face so rich with history, he is effortlessly expressive.

The Wackness is touching, funny and warm, with the bond between two loners lost in a huge over-heated city at its heart. The detail and affection in the representation of 1990s New York is aided by an excellent hip hop soundtrack, which gives the movie pace, rhythm and attitude. Anna

More:  Comedy  Drama
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