It's the summer of 1994, and the streets of New York are pulsing with hip hop, the air wafting with the sweet aroma of marijuana. The newly-inaugurated mayor, Rudolph Giuliani, is beginning to implement his anti-fun initiatives against a multitude of crimes... noisy portable radios, graffiti and public drunkenness.
The Wackness centres upon a troubled high school student named Luke Shapiro (Josh Peck), a teenage pot dealer who forms a friendship with Dr. Jeffrey Squires (Sir Ben Kingsley), a psychiatrist and kindred lost soul. When the doctor proposes Luke trade him weed for therapy sessions, the two begin to explore New York City, their love of women and their own depression.
The Wackness tries to convey the full look and feel of living way back in 1994 and does so quite admirably (especially if you are a lover of hip hop), it's both funny and somewhat moving and is an offbeat tale of two lost souls stumbling towards maturity; for one a natural progression, a young teenager who has only just graduated, the other though a middle aged man who is always trying to recapture his youth somehow, some way. At first I thought this was to be a retelling of Risky Business, along with The Breakfast Club one of the best coming of age tales of recent years and one still to be matched in my opinion, however it turns out to contain a little bit more than that initial premise.
As our two main protagonists meander through this movie the momentum changes somewhat; what appears initially to be a rights of passage brief with Luke finding his own way in the world eventually becomes the relationship between Luke and so called mentor Jeffrey. Jeffrey comes more and more into his own as the film advances and kudos to Sir Ben Kingsley with taking on another role that you might not have immediately have thought would have been his. Everyone of course remembers the excellent work he put in all those years ago into Gandhi, rightly winning an Oscar that year for best actor, and for some time after that it took a while for him to break free of that mould; he was always remembered as the small bald man in the loin cloth. He has since though taken on some parts which completely remove him from that envelope. Who remembers the brutal, sadistic mob hand from Sexy Beast, a powerhouse of a performance as much removed from Gandhi as black is from white. Here though he tries his hand at comedy and one which requires some subtle nuances, the dry delivery of his lines as a man who really doesn't know, appreciate or want his place in life is wonderful stuff and for me brought out the most giggles. For me Kingsley takes this film as his own.
This is a character driven piece examining all of the flaws that people have not only when they are reaching maturity but also as they grow old and try to keep a grip on their ebbing youth. Dr Squires is the best example of course but what about his wife? She has her own issues to deal with, exercising to keep her figure she had all those years ago, wanting a divorce but not having the will to instigate one until it is suggested to her by her husband. Olivia Thirbly produces another sterling performance in her own right as the young Stephanie only intent on living life for the moment and whilst not wishing to hurt anyone along the way her lack of insight into other peoples emotions blinds her to the heartbreak she inflicts. Luke's parents continually fight as they face the pressures of a working life where things have not gone according to plan; if ever such a plan ever existed! So everywhere Luke looks he only sees that mature life is one continual struggle; no wonder he sees a shrink so early in his own development. Luke comes to understand this pain and suffering, accept it as part of life and deal with it; this shows how he matures from the opening scenes to the final ones.
Writer /Director Jonathan Levine was more or less the same age as Luke in the time this is set and it's certainly an almost biographical piece for him, he admits to such in the accompanying commentary. Perhaps he is trying to exorcise the demons of his own past and the challenges he faced in his maturing; who knows. What he has left us with though is an engaging enough piece where any viewer young or old will be able to relate in some small way to the problems that someone faces upto on screen, and to do this across the ages is a good enough feat indeed. Musically this comes straight from Levine's own past; the early 90s. So if you're into hip hop then you'll love the backing score, if not then either push it to the back corners of your mind or it will get on your nerves somewhat.
Suitable conclusions are reached for all of the main players and conclusions which are not forced or seem out of place; as such the end of the film is satisfactory as an extension of the themes that Levine has been introducing over the preceding 90 minutes. Not all of the players get what they want this is true and true to real life as well, but it's natural and the characters have all advanced from when we first saw them at the beginning of the film. The Wackness is an enjoyable watch for a variety of reasons, the characters, the acting not to mention some of the comedy elements within it. I was pleasantly surprised by this little movie and can certainly recommend you give this a watch at some point.
Our Review Ethos