Although the buddy buddy, coming-of-age film, The Wackness won the 2008 Sundance Audience Award, I didn’t know what to make of the title or the fact that it starred Academy Award winner Sir Ben Kingsley with Mary-Kate Olsen and Method Man. Despite my confusion over the casting and the title’s weird name, I was quickly captured by the film written and directed by Jonathan Levine.
This quirky drama is set in the summer of 1994 in New York City, before Mayor Giuliani cleaned up the streets for incoming tourists. It’s the days of the original Nintendo, pagers and hip-hop and the narrative loves poking fun of these now passé trends and the audiences’ laughter in the theater echoed the nostalgic jokes.
The main protagonist is Luke (Josh Peck), a depressed teenage pot dealer with no friends, issues with his parents and his virginity. Most of these characteristics change though once he forms a bond with his therapist, Dr. Squires (Sir Ben Kingsley) who accepts weed as payment for therapy sessions. Dr. Squires is hardly a role model since he’s going through a mid-life crisis, a divorce and pops pills to escape it all, however he pays attention to Luke and the two forge a friendship based on a mutual need: neither one is getting laid. So, the unlikely duo hits the streets of New York selling grass and encountering a young hippy pot smoker (Mary Kate Olsen) and Luke’s supplier (Method Man).
Meanwhile, Luke has had a crush on Dr. Squires' popular stepdaughter, Stephanie (Olivia Thirlby from Juno), and is surprised when she returns his affections over the summer break. Luke’s first love experience becomes a life lesson that sets him on the pathway towards adulthood and forces him to concentrate on “the dopeness” of life instead of “the wackness.” In fact, when Dr. Squires breaks down, it is up to the younger man to show him how to live again. Thus, in many ways it’s a coming-of-age film for both teenagers and adults.
Kingsley is amazing playing the immature and "free-spirited" doctor, although at times his zaniness reminded me of Robin Williams. Newcomer Peck fit nicely into the adolescent role and especially did a great job of showing the initial awkwardness of teenage love and sex.
My only fault with the offbeat film lies in the fact that it was one “wackness” too long. The film opens Thursday, July 3, 2008