A really great movie.
The performances are great. The film often looks really beautiful. There’s one shot, near the end of the film, that is just plain gorgeous. We see the characters of the excellently mopey and teenage Josh Peck and the brilliant Sir Ben Kingsley (Why hasn’t he overtaken Jack Nicholson yet? (or has he?)) sitting on the beach. The shot is from above, characters’ backs to the camera, and we see the ocean and the skyline… It’s a beautiful shot composed of such tone… Just how well-made a film The Wackness is is hinted at throughout the film, but when you see this shot (and the entire late-in-the-film scene on the beach), you know. Definitively.
As mentioned, all performances are really well-played. Famke Janssen plays Kingsley’s bored wife. It’s a small role, but it’s a depressing role if there ever was one. Not cry-depressing, but “Geez! Open up the blinds! Let the sun shine through your windows!”-depressing. She obviously gets this point across well. Method Man plays a drug dealer’s drug dealer (literally) and plays it convincingly, even carrying an authentic-sounding accent. Olivia Thirlby gets past her somewhat annoying Juno character and nails it as Kingsley’s privileged step-daughter. Even Mary-Kate Olsen does a good job in her brief role. And of course, Kingsley: Check. Josh Peck is known for his performances on children/tween shows on Nickelodeon. In movie-land it might be possible that you know him for two roles. His one as a New York City teenage drug dealer in The Wackness and his role as a cruel and annoying potty-mouthed bully (when he was a large prepubescent kid) in 2004’s Mean Creek. Both, more or less, “indie” films. (Mean Creek much more so) And he does a great job in each of these roles.
You know protagonist Luke Shapiro (Peck). Or at least have experienced one of the things he experiences in the film. You must have (or will). This is life. The guy just graduated from high school for Pete’s sake. You don’t remember that? Or the stuff that was going on in your teenage life? Youth! Youth! What a time.
The Wackness details Luke’s summer months between high school and college as he deals pot and deals with life. Kingsley is his fairly eccentric psychologist, trading sessions for marijuana. The Shapiro family is having troubles, key among them, financial troubles. Luke sets out to help his family with his pot dealing profits. He also deals in order to save up money for college. That’s a real person right there. Real. (albeit, feelgood movie-esque)
Thank writer/director Jason Levine for an excellent film. As we’ve discussed, we know the film is a well-made film and all the performances are terrific. But you know we have a great film on our hands when we recognize that The Wackness has a great script. It’s magnificent. First love, heartbreak, hip-hop, drugs, being young and alive; all these themes are authentically touched upon. The film is set in 1994 and, yes, Levine accurately brings us back. Biggie is up-and-coming, Luke references Pearl Jam and we get to hear A Tribe Called Quest’s classic “Can I Kick It?”
This film makes you smile, laugh, recognize, feel, think. Yes! This is a funny movie! One of the funniest and most sincere films of 2008 so far. This is an excellent, excellent movie. It’s dark. It has substance. It has meaning. The meaning of life! Luke and Kingsley’s shrink talk of the meaning of life and how to live. This is brilliant. The Wackness is a brilliant film (or at least really good). Go see it.
Jonathan Levine is definitely an auteur to watch out for. Easily one of the best movies of 2008, The Wackness captures the essence of the mid ’90s with a perfect combination of hip-hop, drugs and heartbreak. This film reminds us once again of the promises of the indie film movement, in that it allows certain filmmakers to create highly personal and startlingly original works of art. Do not be put off by seemingly clichéd characters such as the depressed, drug-addicted psychologist played by Ben Kingsley or Olivia Thirlby’s bored and extremely promiscuous (what a combo) rich girl. Levine adds nuance to these archetypes and charms the viewer with his humor, allowing him to deliver an emotional wallop in the film’s bittersweet conclusion.