Archive Review: The Wackness (2008)

Coming-of-age stories come in all forms, though one would expect a New York City drug dealer at the height of hip-hop in the mid ’90s to have already experienced a loss of innocence. For Luke Shapiro (Josh Peck), however, dealing pot is just a summer job, and for all his street cred, he’s a lonely dude unexperienced in the ways of love.

Jonathan Levine’s “The Wackness” tells that typical story of a last summer before college, but clichés don’t run wild thanks to a re-calibrated the moral compass. Something’s off with each of his three main characters; they’re not the most likable or at the least morally sound, which provides a challenge for the actors in terms of generating sympathy.

Sir Ben Kingsley seems to really enjoy that challenge. He plays Dr. Squires, Luke’s shrink whom Luke pays in pot. Unconventional doesn’t quite describe Squires; everything about Kingsley’s performance feels unpredictable and spontaneous, but deeply rooted in a mid-life crisis. He projects a desire to be in Luke’s place in the way he offers advice, which sometimes is misguided and sometimes spot-on. Both, however, share loneliness at different stages in life and therefore become friends.

As much as Dr. Squires urges Luke to sow his oats, however, he also wants Luke to stay away from his step daughter Stephanie (Olivia Thirlby) for unclear but certainly hypocritical reasons. A popular girl with inattentive parents, Stephanie’s well-versed in many things, including boys, but she takes interest in Luke’s charms. Their relationship doesn’t necessarily feel right in the fairy tale sense, but it does feel true-to-life because more often than not, there’s a discrepancy in the amount of life experience two people have, especially at 18.

This dictates the essence of Levine’s message, though one wrapped in a complicated shell built of excessive drug use and morally misguided activities. For Levine, coming of age is about accumulating experience, both positive and negative, the “dopeness” and the “wackness” as Stephanie tells Luke. The challenge is finding the right perspective, not unlike the perspective with which we need to view some of the characters and their questionable activities in order to appreciate the film.


4/5 Stars


The Wackness
Written and Directed by Jonathan Levine
Starring: Josh Peck, Olivia Thirlby, Ben Kingsley


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