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'The Wackness' Has A Solid Screenplay, Excellent Performances

July 2nd, 2008 10:08am EDT favorite Add to My News
The WacknessDoesn't it seem, at times, that the year 2000 is still in the future? This mostly seems the case when the word "year" appears before "2000;" regardless, I had to do a double take when I first learned that we now live in an era that is producing 1990's era period pieces.

"The Wackness" takes place in New York City circa summer 1994. It's an interesting time for New York that saw the beginning of the Giuliani era and the end of, for better or worse, any tolerance whatsoever for crime.

The recent crackdown on crime is a problem for high school senior and social outcast Luke Shapiro (Josh Peck) who finances himself through the sale of marijuana out of an ices cart. Luke does not know how to meet members of the opposite sex so he enlists the help of psychiatrist, and fellow marijuana fan, Dr. Jeffrey Squires (a wonderful Ben Kingsley, who can now have his Oscar back after it was revoked for his appearance in "The Love Guru") for advice. Trading drugs for sessions, Luke explores the inner demons of his social awkwardness in contrast to his home life that is falling apart due to unwise investments by his father.

The WacknessIt does not take long for Luke to realize that Squires, who is trapped in a loveless marriage to a much younger wife (an under utilized Famke Janssen), is even more messed up than he is. An unlikely friendship between the two soon forms, resulting in a barrage of nights out at Squires' favorite dive bars - Squires is dumbfounded to later learn the legal drinking age is not 18 - and later indulging in an endless supply of drugs.

The friendship is tested when Luke starts spending much of his free time with fellow classmate and - as Luke described, "out of his league" girl - Stephanie (Olivia Thirlby from "Juno"). What complicates this relationship is the fact Stephanie is Squires' stepdaughter. Squires objects to the relationship, not because of parental instincts but because he has seen Stephanie discard many a suitor once she becomes, as he puts it, "bored." Luke spends the summer of 1994 balancing his relationship with Stephanie with his entrepreneurial drug dealing business, which Squires eventually joins, that has been expanded in order to try and pay off the debts of his parents and avoid being evicted from their Upper East Side apartment.

"The Wackness" works because of the solid screenplay (written by director Jonathan Levine) and the excellent performances by the movie's leads. The fact the film takes place in 1994 seems to have little influence on the actual story. True, the story plays against the backdrop of a city focused on eliminating crime, but the repercussions of some of the characters actions would be no different in today's New York. Also, like many recent films that explore other, yet relatively recent, eras "The Wackness" has a tendency to fall into the trap of inserting pop culture references just for the sake of including a pop culture reference. I am not even sure they are all correct; Luke is seen playing "The Legend of Zelda" on the original Nintendo Entertainment System, a game that was released in 1987. (By 1994 the Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis were the gaming systems of that era.)

Minor complaints aside, "The Wackness" offers a unique story coupled by top-notch acting, telling the story of two flawed characters only separated by four decades of life. Perhaps in the future both of them will eventually find what they are looking for, perhaps as far into the future as...the year 2000.

-"The Wackness" photo gallery & more!

Mike Ryan
Review by Mike Ryan
Starpulse contributing writer


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