One of the films that have gotten the “festival rating” for a one-off screening, it's easy to see why The Wackness would not have normally passed the censors who are likely to say No for the heavy drug use throughout the film, as is the language, and perhaps one line that might have gravely, though implied and indirectly insulted a religious figure too. After all, it's set in 1994 New York City, and has a teenage drug peddler being the central figure in which the story unfolds around.
In this coming-of-age film written and directed by Jonathan Levine (who gave us Mandy Lane), Josh Peck stars as Luke Shapiro, a drug dealer who distributes his stash through an ingenious method of pretending to sell “fesh and delcious ice” around his neighbourhood. We learn that he's a little “wack”, and nobody could blame him, coming from a home where his parents bicker everyday, ,and facing the possibility of being evicted from their apartment too. With the world on his shoulders and his wait to graduate into college, he seeks help from psychotherapist Dr. Jeffrey Squires, played by Ben Kingsley.
It's a very strange relationship that these two have forged. For starters, they are doctor and patient, and because of Squires' willingness to accept payment in drugs to feed his addiction, they become businessman and client. And from their hanging out with each other, they too become friends outside the treatment room. And to complicate matters, Luke starts to develop an infatuation with Squire's step-daughter Stephanie (Olivia Thirlby), with Squires being really against it because of Luke's summer occupation of choice, and Luke's mission (with Squires' encouragement and direction) to get laid in order to lift up his depressing spirits.
Thematically, I'd like to look at the exploration of romantic love between the couples in the film, where it looks at a new, budding romance between Luke and Stephanie, and maturing ones such as that between Luke's parents which is fraught with quarrels and disagreements, and the one between Squires and his wife Kristin (Famke Janssen), which suffers from indifference. Each couple has their unique problems to deal with, and I suppose those who are unmarried will identify the puppy love easily, while keeping an eye for potential problems in the future facing older couples should that spark between them be lost.
Levine fuses a number of comedic situations effortlessly into the film, and has a respectable selection of classic hip-hop tunes from the 90s era such as those by the Notorious B.I.G. even. Josh Peck and Ben Kingsley share some superb chemistry together on screen that makes their character interaction a joy to pay attention to, and veteran Kingsley often steals the thunder from his younger co-star for that boundless energy given to his character, and it's quite unlike any other role that I've seen him in before. Fans of Mary-Kate Olsen would be disappointed though with a very limited screen time from their idol, but it's not as if her druggie hippie character was anything worthwhile to sit up and take note.
As a coming of age story, this film works thanks primarily to its casting, and the hallucinatory-like quality that Levine had employed to push the narrative forward. Humour as always, never fails to make the right connections with the audience, especially if effectively done and delivered.