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Movie Review: The Wackness
This is a difficult movie to market without a red-band trailer, due to the subject matter.
The Wackness is this summer's "it" indie movie. It's got all of the typical elements you'd see in an indie film; it's the coming-of-age story of an apathetic and depressed graduate (Josh Peck) who meets and falls in love with a carefree girl (Olivia Thirlby). This chance encounter allows him to experience a whole slew of emotions he has never felt, an existential crisis is had, kooky friends lighten up the mood, lives are changed, and lessons are learned. The top-notch cast and visionary director (Jonathan Levine) rehash and revitalize this stale genre, bringing with them all of the intangibles that make this one of the best movies of the year.
The movie takes place in New York in the summer of '94, a fond year for fans of music and Rudy Giuliani. The main character Luke Shapiro, manages to go through high school without any friends, sex (!), or aspirations. He spends most of his time at therapy sessions with Dr. Squires, and gives weed for each session. Their friendship grows out of their desire for sex (with other people), similar recreational activities (drug related), and their lack of meaningful relationships with other people. During the course of the movie you learn that Luke has a soft spot for Dr. Squires' stepdaughter, Stephanie, who is too cool for school (and Luke), so he is not completely hopeless. Luke and Squires begin to hang out, and they take each other out on their daily activities. On Luke's drug run, they run into the the stereotypical customers, most notably a hippie played by Mary-Kate Olson and a musician past her prime (Jane Adams). They both provide some sort of excitement and emotion for Squires, who has had none of that in his loveless marriage with his young, nonchalant wife (Famke Janssen). Squires returns the favor by taking Luke to one of the most popular bars to get laid. Unfortunately, the bar was popular when Squires was young and as all hotspots do, it has fallen into disrepair and irrelevance. Interspersed in here is the scene where Ben Kingsley makes out with Mary Kate, which has nothing to do with the story but happens to appear in almost every review or comment of this movie.
Luck has it that all of Stephanie's friends have left on vacation so she decides to hang out with Luke. The middle of the movie focuses on their relationship and in one scene Stephanie points out how Luke always looks at the negative, the "wackness" of things, and encourages him to look at the "dopeness" of things in life, like she does. He goes for her and she surprisingly returns his affections. They have a getaway while her parents are out of town, and the film begins to pick up a lot of momentum there. There is a particularly touching scene when they are in the shower and the audience already knows what Luke does not know; his innocence and inexperience blinds him from Stephanie's lack of actual feeling for him, and he falls for her hard. He begins thinking of ways to show her, with lines like "I got mad love for you shorty" or "you make me want to listen to Boyz II Men." Instead he just goes with it and gives her all of him, which she politely acknowledges but does not accept. After the trip she begins to avoid him, and the problems begin to mount. His family is in the process of being evicted and Dr. Squires has completely collapsed and given up on life, he believes that he is at the end of his while Luke's is just beginning. The last part of the film makes you cry, laugh, and cheer for everyone involved, and Luke becomes a man right before our eyes, saving Squires from himself and resolving all of the relationship issues to the best of his ability before he goes off to college.
1994 included the debut albums of many venerable artists including Nas, Notorious B.I.G., Outkast, Method Man, Green Day, and Hootie and the Blowfish. Music plays an important role in this movie, and unlike Garden State where Zach Braff uses it to make the movie, the music becomes a part of this movie, a throwback to the culture in the 90s where times were changing, the crime was rampant, the honeys were fly, Zelda was THE game, pot was plentiful and going to this movie will make you miss everything that you grew up doing and watching. Ben Kingsley reinvents himself as the drug-addled therapist, his most sensational role since Sexy Beast. Once again, Olivia Thirlby manages to steal the movie from her co-stars (like she did in Juno) and Josh Peck shows a different side of him, not the one you usually see on Nickelodeon. The movie is out in select theaters this Thursday and is one you don't want to miss. This movie will resonate with everyone who can sit through the entire movie, and accept the occasional implausible scenario. This film won the Audience Award at Sundance and is a "Certified Fresh" movie on Rotten Tomatoes.