An interesting character study that’s funny, bittersweet, charming, and thought-provoking, The Wackness draws its audience into the world of adolescence, harnessing its unique coming-of-age tale with a brand of humor and intelligence that is different from anything Hollywood has offered in years.
Drug dealer and troubled teenager Luke Shapiro (Josh Peck) has just graduated from high school and doesn’t quite know what direction to steer in. Luke decides to go to Dr. Jeffrey Squires (Ben Kingsley), a therapist, for help. It is when Dr. Squires proposes that Luke trade weed for the therapy sessions that the two begin to form a friendship and tackle obstacles in life along the way. It isn’t long before Luke (with the help of Dr. Squires) realizes that a cure to his problems might lie in a serious relationship with the girl of his dreams (Olivia Thirlby), who just happens to be his psychiatrist’s stepdaughter.
Driven by a zany and crisp performance by a nearly unrecognizable Ben Kingsley and a blunt (yet throughly engaging) performance by Josh Peck, this is a nostalgia piece with endearing characters that brighten the screen’s smoky glamour — nearly every scene is enveloped in a hotbox-like atmosphere. It overcomes familiar territory with an original script that features some of the best dialog in recent years and a tale that captures the essence of the ’90s. From the hip soundtrack to the grungy lingo, it’s all there and brings back fond memories of an era not fully explored until now.
The acting is stellar, the script seething with intelligence, and the characters are humble. This rare picture has a bit of everything. Whether it be the romantic and cavalier or the offbeat and peculiar, The Wackness has it all, serving up an authentic and assuring coming-of-age tale unlike any other. This is (with the help of its talented cast) a touching film that will hopefully be crowned with a number of Independent Spirit Awards, including best feature, come February.
Writer/director Jonathan Levine makes the absolute best out of an under-the-radar flick, rarely if ever taking a wrong step in the writing or directing. He never directs the film heavy-handedly and approaches the subject with affection and sincerity. Intelligent, hip, innocent, and pure, this is a movie that one cherishes for those reasons in particular, among many others.
Genuine, endearing, and full of sentimental value, The Wackness works on so many different levels. Most people would beg to differ, but in this reviewer’s eyes it’s a masterpiece and this year’s best picture. I can assure you that it surpasses every visible coming-of-age cliché (and there are plenty to be seen) by providing fresh dialog and unexpected circumstances. This year’s most refreshing, must-see indie flick will arrive on DVD December 29. 5/5 stars