The Wackness

Nothing new, perhaps, but certainly really good.

Released in 2008, certified UK-15. Reviewed on 03 Nov 2008 by Scott Morris
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There's a film like this every festival season. Youngster coming of age, finding love and heartbreak for the first time, yadda, yadda. Generally written and directed by someone not much older than the lead character. The atrociously titled The Wackness ticks those two boxes, although it's also traditional for said festival mainstay to tick another box entitled "insufferably awful". Disappointingly, The Wackness is actually pretty good. Can't trust anyone these days.

Luke Shapiro (Josh Peck) approaches graduation as something of an outsider, and unusually unpopular for the school dope dealer. Occasionally he speaks of his troubles to one of his clients, psychologist Dr. Squires (Ben Kingsley), a man who has more than enough problems of his own. His marriage to Kristin (Famke Janssen) has lost any sparkle and it's triggering a mid-life crisis. Well, Kingsley is sixty five, but for the purposes of the film let's run with that as 'mid-life'.

Luke's parents are getting into financial trouble prompting Luke to spend his impending summer break by dealing more hashish to his mildly whacky clientele, including incongruous hippie chick Union (Mary-Kate Olsen, who I largely mention only to point out that she's in an essentially pointless small cameo role, contrary to what the film's press goons would want you to believe). Dr. Squires stepdaughter Stephanie (Olivia Thirlby) decides to start hanging around with Luke, largely because her 'normal' friends have vanished on holiday, and before long Luke's infatuated.

Cue the usual coming of age, first love heartbreaky type stuff, punctuated by the odd dope deal and Dr. Squires going into a meltdown. Aside from the calculated patina of edginess given by the lead being a small time drug dealer, this film isn't exactly doing anything that a hundred other coming of age, first love heartbreaky type films haven't done a hundred times before. It is, at least, doing it rather well. Josh Peck captures the awkwardness of his character well, and it's a believable and sympathetic performance.

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Indeed, it's a welcome grounding counterbalance to Kingsley's scenery-chewing that at times feels more suited to a Jim Carrey movie than a serious exploration of teenage angst. Thankfully, The Wackness isn't really a serious exploration of teenage angst, and thank $deity for that. It's more of a light hearted piece that dips its toe into darker waters from time to time, and is all the more enjoyable for that.

I'm trying to think of nasty things to say about this film because, hey, that's what I do, but the worst I can come up with is the cringe inducing use of nineties slang, from whence this film's title doth come. There's a limit to how many times I can hear things described as 'mad dope' before my ironymeter resets it from 'amusing' back to 'irritating'. Which is rather nit-picky, even by my standards.

The Wackness is a perfectly enjoyable film, and surely that's enough, in a time where 'average' is slowly being dragged down into 'disappointing' by dint of the number of clunkers we're exposed to on a weekly basis. Certainly worth a look.

Were I in the business of passing quantifiable judgements, I'd award this 4/5 TippyMarks.

Jonathan Levine
Cast list:
Ben Kingsley (Dr. Squires)
Famke Janssen (Kristin Squires)
Josh Peck (Luke Shapiro)
Olivia Thirlby (Stephanie)
Mary-Kate Olsen (Union)