The Wackness
dir-scr Jonathan Levine
with Josh Peck, Ben Kingsley, Famke Janssen, Olivia Thirlby, Mary-Kate Olsen, Jane Adams, Method Man, Aaron Yoo, Talia Balsam, David Wohl, Bob Dishy, Joanna Merlin
release US 3.Jul.08, UK 29.Aug.08
08/US Occupant 1h40
The Wackness
The odd couple: Kingsley and Peck

janssen olsen adams

SUNDANCE FILM FEST edinburgh film fest
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
The Wackness There's a nicely gritty tone to this tale of drugs and friendship on the mean streets of New York City. But as the plot and characters lose their believability, the film almost collapses under its pretensions.

In 1994 New York, high school grad Luke (Peck) plans to enjoy the summer before "real life" starts in the autumn. He's raising money for university by dealing drugs out of an old ice cream cart, which might be a problem in the Giuliani era of zero-tolerance on crime. And he's also trading pot for sessions with his counsellor, Dr Squires (Kingsley), which gets complicated when he falls for Squires' step-daughter Stephanie (Thirlby). But it's Luke and Squires who are kindred spirits, both unsure where they're going in life.

Anchored by a hilariously offbeat performance from Kingsley and a Peck's relatively sympathetic point of view, this film is infused by a dark sense of humour and intriguing observations of how people affect each others' lives. Kingsley and Peck make a terrific double act as two very different men who discover a commonality in their obsessions with sex and drugs and their frustration that the new mayor is trying to sweep real life out of sight.

Actually, everyone in this film is a mess, from the more-experienced Stephanie and Squires' icy trophy wife (Janssen) to Luke's constantly bickering parents (Balsam and Wohl), plus a pothead ex-popstar (Adams), a needy hippie (Olson) and a tetchy dealer (Method Man). Yes, this is one of those American indie movies in which everyone is so quirky it almost hurts, and the dialog is almost too clever to actually be something real people might say.

Writer-director Levine wallows a bit in his witty premise, indulging in his gleeful willingness to touch on taboo issues as witnessed in the twisted complications he invents for his characters' lives. But like Juno, the cast is so good that the script's contrivances aren't really a problem. And even if no one in this film is very likeable, there are surprising moments of astuteness in the way it looks at optimism (do we dwell on the dopeness or the wackness?) and tenacity in the face of whatever life throws at you.

cert 15 themes, language, drugs, sexuality 27.May.08

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© 2008 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall