This was another movie I meant to see in theatres when it was out last year. However, despite being a hit at Sundance '08, this film was not such a hit in Summer '08 and it disappeared before I got the chance. So I popped it in last night and, though I wasn't crazy about it at first, this one really grew on me. By the end, this nostalgic story, with a solid and sweet central performance from Josh Peck, had thoroughly won me over.
At first glance, "The Wackness" seems to be your standard coming-of-age story about an 18 year old in NYC. What sets it apart, though, is that it's set in the summer of 1994 and the teenager in question has a thriving summer job as a pot dealer. At first, Peck's character comes off a little too depressed (i.e. flat). But as the movie ambles along at a stoner's pace, he slowly comes to life, as does the movie in general.
At first, I also had some trouble getting over the film's severe stylization, which was a little too hazy and sepia-toned for me. I don't remember the mid-90s being devoid of color...in fact it was sorta the opposite, right? But the script was really sharp and kept me interested. From the opening scene, where Peck is trading pot for therapy from the brilliant Ben Kingsley, I knew this movie had some potential. I mean, when you've got Gandhi doing bong hits, how can you lose? But more than that, Kingsley creates such a total fuck-up of a guy that you can't help care about him as he becomes a surrogate father to the lost, lonely Peck.
First time writer director Jonathan Levine has created some truly unique and memorable characters here which you really start to care about as the film makes it's way through a long, sexy summer. And sure, there's the prerequisite first love and first sex (at the beach even!) but all are dealt with in such a fresh way that to say more would be to spoil the lovely little surprises of this intimate and ultimately charming film.
Another thing I loved about "The Wackness" is its title. It's one of those titles that make you go, whaaaa, until you see the movie and it is all explained about halfway through in a way that then makes perfect sense. My fondness for this sort of titling might come from the fact that I pulled the same trick on my last feature, "WTC View". People are always a bit confused by that title until a crucial scene in which all is revealed.
Anyway, I would throw this one in your queue if like a good coming of age story with a dash of 90's nostalgia. Oh--and on the special features, don't miss the dead-on spoof of a 90's cable access TV show called THE DOPE SHOW. What can I say other than it was dope...and the bomb....and the bum diggity. Word.