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The Wackness 2008

It's the summer of 1994, and the streets of New York are pulsing with hip-hop. Set against this backdrop, a lonely teenager named Luke Shapiro spends his last summer before university selling marijuana throughout New York City, trading it with his unorthodox psychotherapist for treatment, while having a crush on his stepdaughter...

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It's no surprise that The Wackness won the 2008 Audience Award at Sundance. This is a well done independent film on all levels. It would be easy for this coming-of-age tale to fall into the blunders so prevalent for this genre, but instead the film gives its audience equal parts of both comedy and heartbreak. Ben Kingsley gives a standout performance as Dr. Squires, a middle-aged shrink stuck in his adolescent fantasies. But it's on the shoulders of the young Josh Peck that this film really rests. I have to say he embodied all aspects of the character so completely that I cannot imagine anyone else in the role. Jonathan Levin excels as both writer and director of this gem. I look forward to seeing more of his films in the future.
Seen as a part of USC's SCA Alumni Series, The Wackness, with a fantastically earnest performance by Josh Peck and delightfully twitchy support from Ben Kingsley was a love letter to the 90s, while still couching a heart-warming and sometimes painfully touching coming of age story.

Peck's portrayal of Luke Shapiro reaches out to anyone who was ever a social fringe player or lovestruck by the unreachable girl. His story is at once enlightening, comical, and unnervingly serious.

Laugh out loud funny at times, Wackness is due to find its place as one of the better films of the year.
tatatagahatsjyhs
I truly enjoyed the acting in this film, especially Ben Kingsley's kooky performance. The storyline is simple yet entertaining. There were quite some laughters and some things to think about regarding teenage depression and lost of sense of directions. I originally went to see this movie for the music that was emphasized in the trailer, but I ended up watching a movie I would see again in future when feeling a bit lost or just need to chuckle. The film gives a touch of indies film yet you can tell it isn't. The two young actors were promising and the script was well written but not in a pure intellectual sense. I would strongly recommend this movie to those that want a heart-warming movie like "Waitress" but takes place in urban New York City. There is drug reference and brief sexual contents in this movie in case if anyone needs to know.
:fresh:

Fantastic cast and the realest story I have ever experienced in the movie theaters. Josh Peck has revealed himself in so many way during the film and must be applauded. The 90's never looked better and no thanks to Guiliani either.
July 3, 2008

The summer between the last year of high school and the first year of college can be a tricky one. Kids go from thinking they know everything to accepting they've still got lots to learn...about everything. Money, sex, parents, love--it can all get a little "wacky."

"The Wackness" takes place during one of those summers--1994 to be exact--when Luke Shapiro (Josh Peck) is taught lessons about sex, friendship, loyalty and "how to deal." Luke is a young man who listens to hip hop and walks around with just a smidge of arrogance, but the truth of the matter is he's lonely. He doesn't have any friends and the only reason he'd ever find himself at one of his classmate's graduation parties is because he's a well-known pot dealer. He's the guy who supplies "the goods" for the party but who's never asked to stay and enjoy them.

Luke is sort of a professional in his field, cool and relatively inconspicuous. Around the East Side of Manhattan he pushes a cart that says "Fresh & Delicious Ices," which he uses to sell pot to a regular brand of clientele, though the movie never tells us what Luke does if somebody actually wants fresh and delicious ice.

One of Luke's best clients is a hippie-looking psychiatrist named Dr. Squires (Ben Kingsley), who compensates Luke with therapy sessions instead of money. Deep down, Squires is a sad and lonely man himself. He's married to a depressed and cynical woman (Famke Janssen), who forever puffs on cigarettes but still feels the need to do aerobics, and takes anti-depressants of his own. Squires also has a spunky step-daughter named Stephanie (Olivia Thirlby), whom Luke always knew in high school but is just now developing feelings for, probably because she's actually taking the time to talk him.

The movie's main relationship is the odd and endearing one between Luke and Dr. Squires. The two share adventures together like spray painting on public property, getting arrested, making out with young girls (Mary-Kate Olsen), and experimenting with stronger drugs. Eventually, they even go into business together. A funny moment finds Luke bringing Squires to meet his supplier (Method Man).

Underneath the preposterousness of some of these scenes, we believe Luke and Squires people would really be friends. In fact, one of the things about "The Wackness" that draws us in, and keeps us in, is the way writer-director Jonathan Levine and actor Josh Peck make Luke both interesting and admirable. Luke knows how to talk to people and I believed he could really exist (Levine must have been writing about someone specific when he wrote the character). Peck plays Luke so that we never think of him as a stock movie type. He's not annoying, either, but humble and it was nice to see a teenager character care for the people around him, including his mother (Talia Balsam) and father (David Wohl), who face eviction from their apartment. Believe it or not, teenagers really do love and learn from their parents.

Levine's dialogue also feels genuine, which comes as a surprise since Luke and Stephanie say words like "a'ight," "peace" and "word." But they're not meant to be mocking or funny. With a coming-of-age story as this, it would be easy for Levine to go for cheap effects and gimmicks, perhaps throw tragic or satirical elements at us, but he avoids predictability and his story works because we believe these people are real--real enough in their world anyway.

In the movie's best sequence, Luke and Stephanie take a trip to her house in the Hamptons. At the same time, Dr. Squires and his wife vacation in the Caribbean. Levine juxtaposes the young characters with the old ones, perhaps as a way to show that some of life's problems, especially with regards to sex and love, aren't limited to a certain age. Each couples' scenes end on interesting notes and each character learns something amazing, if heartbreaking. Levine also handles Josh's virginity in a way that's fresh and believable. He treats the situation as matter of fact and as a learning experience, which is better than turning it into a punch line.

I wouldn't go so far as to call "The Wackness" a great film, or even a special one, but it did hold my interest and I enjoyed the company of the characters and the performances. The movie sometimes borders on thinking it's more important than it really is (especially towards the end on the beach), and it's not incredibly original or profound since we've seen better coming of age tales before, but it's smart, entertaining and unaffected. Relative newcomers Levine, Peck and Thirlby are talents that should be watched for in the future. They're people you'd like to see in an even better film, even though this is a good one.
My favorite coming of age story. Wackness takes outrageous adolescent inner monologue tie-ins and overlays them on top of a poignant story about becoming a man, dealing with growing older and finding/losing your first love. I was enthralled from start to finish
Written and directed by Jonathan Levine (All the Boys Love Mandy Lane), The Wackness is, get this, a sweet-natured, ultimately positive coming-of-age-tale involving a teenage drug dealer trying to get by and get with the high-school girl of dreams, all with the hip-hop music (e.g., Method Man, Wu-Tang Clan, Biggie Smalls, a.k.a. The Notorious B.I.G.) and New York City, circa 1994, as backdrop. Insightful and hilarious in equal measure, The Wackness is a sure sign that a new, uniquely talented filmmaker, Jonathan Levine, has arrived. Levine's first film, All the Boys Love Mandy Lane, is still awaiting distribution stateside; maybe now, it will.

Days away from high school graduation, Luke Shapiro (Josh Peck) isn't so much looking forward to the summer than waiting it out until he can go off to college. At home, his parents (Talia Balsam and David Wohl) argue constantly, mostly about their financial trouble. To make some cash, Luke sells Jamaican weed, courtesy of his supplier, Percy (Method Man). His long list of clients includes another student, Justin (Aaron Yoo), a hippie chick, Union (Mary-Kate Olsen), a talkative musician, Elanor (Jane Adams), and his therapist, Dr. Jeffrey Squires (Ben Kingsley), who trades weed for therapy. While Dr. Squires' marriage to Kristin (Famke Janssen) slowly disintegrates, Luke has a mad crush on Dr. Squires' stepdaughter and about-to-be former classmate, Stephanie (Olivia Thirlby). Stephanie hangs out with an elite crowd, but once summer starts, they scatter and Stephanie starts spending time with Luke out of boredom and need than want.

If you think you know where The Wackness is going story wise, you'd be half-right. As a coming-of-age tale, The Wackness focuses on the life lessons Luke has to learn to make the successful transition to early adulthood. What Levine doesn't do, thankfully, is turn The Wackness into a cautionary tale about drug dealers and the usual corollary, a cathartic, if no less destructive, outbreak of violence to round out the third act. True to his characters, Levine keeps The Wackness focused on their inner transformations and not just their physical experiences. In fact, The Wackness is as much about Dr. Squires' coming to grips with middle age (a middle age he initially refuses to accept) as it as about Luke's lessons in romantic love and personal and family responsibility. And that's all to the good, especially because Levine knows that doling out life lessons with restraint is a lesson that many, more experienced filmmakers never learn.

Also to the good are Levine's sharp, lingo-driven dialogue and the lived-in, note-perfect performances from a uniformly strong cast. The cast takes Levine's occasionally profane, always clever, dialogue and take their flawed, if no less sympathetic, characters to a higher level of complexity. Peck is better than good as the befuddled, besotted Luke. Kingsley, better here than he's been in a while, raises his game to keep up with Peck and Levine's painfully hilarious dialogue. Thirlby takes what could have been a cipher or worse, a self-absorbed character, and gives her a roundedness and depth that makes Luke's infatuation with her all the more understandable. And if that's sounds like The Wackness is a must-see indie film, it's because it is, without hesitation or qualification.
"The Wackness," a story about a unique friendship between a sixtysomething psychiatrist and his teenage drug dealer, could have been a major film. It got so close. At its best, the film calls to mind the 1971 American classic "Harold and Maude."






I definite fun surprise with Ben Kingsley at his best and Josh Peck is extremely believable in his role. Awesome cinematography as well.
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