The Wackness (15)



Comedy (2008)
98mins US

Starring: Josh Peck, Sir Ben Kingsley, Famke Janssen, Olivia Thirlby, Mary-Kate Olsen, Jane Adams, Method Man, Aaron Yoo
Director: Jonathan Levine
Writer(s): Jonathan Levine
Listings: London | Rest of UK and Ireland

High school student Luke Shapiro supplies weed using an ice cream cart as cover. One of his regular customers is psychiatrist Dr Squires, who pays for his habit with weekly sessions to dissect Luke's fraught home situation. A fragile bond of trust develops between Luke and the crazed medic, whose personal philosophies on life include, "Never trust anyone who doesn't smoke pot or listen to Bob Dylan." However, professional ties are strained when Luke develops a crush on Squires' daughter Stephanie, a beautiful and vivacious chip off the self-analyzing block.

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LondonNet Film Review
The Wackness

Those who take the advice of Dr Squires - Luke Shapiro's Manson-haired, bong-hitting shrink in The Wackness - would believe that the remedy to boredom, depression and general teenage cluelessness is to get laid and do drugs. Often...

Olivia Thirlby and Josh Peck in The Wackness. Revolver EntertainmentThere are plenty of drugs in writer-director Jonathan Levine's latest venture, and at least a little bit of loving. But it takes more than that for 18-year-old drug dealer Luke (Josh Peck) to survive a hot, lonely summer in New York wondering why he can't make friends and how he'll survive in Jersey if his suddenly broke father gets the family evicted.

It's 1994, the beginning of Rudy Guiliani's crime crackdown, and beats from Tupac and Biggie blast through the humid Manhattan air. Middle-aged oddball Dr Squires (Ben Kingsley) takes marijuana as payment for sessions with Luke, whose borderline depression leaves him locked in his room avoiding his parents' arguments.

At the same time, Squires is fighting to salvage his marriage with jaded wife Kristin (Famke Janssen). He tries to reclaim his youth by accompanying Luke as he peddles bags of weed out of a dilapidated ice-cream cart - which leads to a romantic night with a teeny dreadlocked hippie (Mary-Kate Olsen) and even a stint in jail. None of that bothers the doctor as much as Luke's budding romance with his step-daughter, Stephanie (Juno's Olivia Thirlby). Luke falls in love with his curly-haired ex-classmate, makes the mistake of telling her, and promptly has his heart smashed.

Mary Kate Olsen and Sir Ben Kingsley in The Wackness. Revolver EntertainmentThe Wackness is a slow mover at times, but Peck and Thirlby give performances way more sophisticated than those in many coming-of-age flicks - which could explain the Audience Award win at Sundance 2008. Peck turns big-time drug dealing into an endearing profession and makes it seem almost normal for a teenager to have a misguided senior citizen as his only companion. Kingsley steals the show, though, as a comically unrecognisable version of himself that uses perhaps the world's nerdiest graffiti tag.

As an added bonus, the soundtrack is one of the best thought out since Zach Braff's work for Garden State. Faith Evans, A Tribe Called Quest and Nas perfectly capture the vibe of a mid-90s summer, when pagers and overalls were cool and anyone knew that the remedy to broken Nintendo games was blowing dust out of the cartridge. Anyone who remembers those days - and what it was like to be young and hopelessly unsettled - can get a therapeutic dose of nostalgia here.

- Jill Hilbrenner


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