Monday, July 14, 2008

"The Wackness"

Writer/director Jonathan Levine throws a pot dealer angle and an early '90s setting onto a fairly standard coming-of-age story with "The Wackness" and, somewhat surprisingly, it's enough to make the movie not feel completely familiar. In fact, the film is more absorbing than it has any right to be and while it doesn't totally succeed, it's never less than entertaining, alternating between genuinely funny shtick and emotionally resonant observations. Centering around recent high school graduate and virgin Luke (Josh Peck), the movie follows his pot dealing and eventual friendship with psychiatrist Dr. Squires (Ben Kingsley), and shaky romance with Squires' stepdaughter Stephanie (Olivia Thirlby). I liked what Levine was trying to say here about life's disappointments and shortcomings, and both the rap soundtrack and '90s nostalgia (with one exception, a forced bit about Zima) work really well, and add another layer of definition to the proceedings. Kingsley, while never, ever, ever, sounding like a convincing New Yorker, is having fun here for the first time in a very long while, and he's a surprising joy to watch. My one real issue with the film -- which limited me to muted enthusiasm rather than full-fledged recommendation -- is that I just couldn't, on any level, give a shit about its main character. He's a fine enough character to spend 95 minutes with (Peck didn't particularly annoy me), but we're never given any reason why should like him or care about him, or find him interesting for that matter. It's tough to build an emotional connection with a mildly unlikable blank slate, so when the film ended, I left satisfied more with what the movie and its director had done than anything Luke did.


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