The Wackness

  • Film
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With its graffiti-sprayed credits, circa 1994 hip hop on the soundtrack and drug-dealing protagonist, this rites-of-passage affair comes on like a whole barrel of fun. Odd really, when its subject matter is adolescent anxiety, middle-aged depression and unsettling questions of self-worth, shot in a very murky colour palette.

Its Day-Glo marketing campaign notwithstanding, writer-director Jonathan Levine’s debut is at heart an introspective character study, as Upper East Side teenager Josh Peck, a geeky wannabe merely tolerated by his  cool former classmates because he sold them dope, spends the summer between high school and college wondering whether he’ll ever find acceptance. Since he also supplies weed to frazzled shrink Ben Kingsley (above), a listening ear is part of the exchange, and the good doc’s disintegrating marriage has him searching for renewed youth; an unlikely friendship takes shape – complicated by Peck’s  crush on the latter’s daughter (Olivia Thirlby).

In time-capsule dialogue she berates her suitor as a glass-half-empty kind of guy – ‘I look at the dopeness, you look at the wackness’ – thus signposting the revivifying influence of then-breaking hip hop culture on white youth. Whether this line of inquiry squares coherently with the film’s sedulous pacing and studiedly washed-out visuals is questionable, as if it’s playing hang-loose and uptight simultaneously. Still, Kingsley’s shamelessly zingy performance adds welcome pep, and a delicate, achingly sincere summertime idyll on Fire Island offers notice of Levine’s evident promise, when he’s not leaning too hard on pixie-chick clichés and being down with the kids.

Release details

Rated: 15
Release date: Friday August 29 2008
Duration: 99 mins

Cast and crew

Director: Jonathan Levine
Screenwriter: Jonathan Levine
Cast: Ben Kingsley
Famke Janssen
Josh Peck
Olivia Thirlby
Mary-Kate Olsen
Jane Adams
Method Man
Aaron Yoo
Talia Balsam
David Wohl
Bob Dishy
Joanna Merlin
Shannon Briggs
Roy Milton Davis
Alexander Flores