Sundance Review: The Wackness
by Alex Billington
January 19, 2008
Try and remember 1994. If you're like me, the NES, GameBoy, Kurt Cobain, and Phish come to mind at least, but in The Wackness, every other detail Jonathan Levine implements will bring you back to the glory days of mid-1994. Set in New York City, The Wackness is an eclectic yet hilarious story about a loser-turned-pot-dealer named Luke Shapiro (Josh Peck), who has no friends, deals drugs to his psychiatrist, and has the hots for his daughter. The Wackness' director Jonathan Levine is already defining a new generation of filmmakers along the likes of Jason Reitman and Jared Hess. With this, he's created one of the most memorable films from Sundance so far.
The Wackness takes place over three summer months in 1994 and builds primarily upon Luke's relationship with his psychiatrist, or rather just one of his weed buyers, named Dr. Squires (Sir Ben Kingsley) and his attempts to hook up with his daughter Stephanie (the charming Olivia Thirlby). From there, the story bounces around from Luke's fighting parents to his Jamaican pot supplier (played by Method Man), but overall focuses on how Luke's life plays out with Dr. Squires at his side. The dynamic between Josh Peck, who delivers as defining of a performance as Jon Heder in Napoleon Dynamite, and Ben Kingsley, who gives his best performance since Sexy Beast, is utterly flawless. The two of them nearly had me laughing as much as Superbad and were the quirkiest yet perfect duo I've seen on screen in years.
The Wackness seems slightly reminiscent of Darren Aronofsky's indie classic from 2000, Requiem for a Dream, implementing great cinematography, pale colors, a washed out palette, and a nostalgic storyline. It really reminds me of the days of Clerks and Reservoir Dogs at Sundance, where the movies were brave and energetic and yet still had that very independent feeling. This is a film for the new generations of moviegoers. I am certain that this is going to have some issues finding an audience outside of kids who grew up in the 90's, not only because of all the nostalgic moments, but also because of the subject matter, story, and dialogue - which is a new style that is hard for some to accept.
While I won't exactly say The Wackness is perfect, with some improvements due in editing and smoothing the overall flow, I am certain I will still be calling this one of the best flicks at Sundance by the time the end comes around. And if you're a kid of the 90's, this is easily a must-see.