Clichéd and perceptive in equal measure, writer/director Jonathan Levine’s entertaining, occasionally affecting coming-of-age drama waxes nostalgic for … the summer of 1994?
Luke Shapiro (Josh Peck) spends his final days before heading to college by selling weed and listening to Hip Hop on the sweltering streets of New York City. Luke’s best customer is his shrink, Dr. Squires (Ben Kingsley), who also happens to be the stepfather of his longtime crush, Stephanie (Olivia Thirlby). Doctor and supplier share an odd bond — both are social misfits of sorts — which flowers during a weekend of debauchery marked by the surreal visage of Kingsley locking lips with an inebriated Mary-Kate Olsen.
The Wackness is awash in impressive period detail: Luke’s ’94 soundtrack includes a burgeoning New York City rapper named Notorious B.I.G., and there are several references to Mayor Rudolph Giuliani’s sterilization of the city’s grimier elements. While many of the film’s relationships and scenarios bend believability, Luke’s yearning for Stephanie yields authentic ache — especially when he interprets one intimate encounter as something deeper. Peck is effective as a teenager in transition, and a longhaired, drugged-up Kingsley generates plenty of laughs as his unlikely partner in crime.
But it’s Thirlby who leaves the most lasting mark. Her organic presence can’t help but enliven a film that too often trades period detail for authentically drawn characters. Don’t bother listening to the unnecessary DVD audio commentary track featuring Levine and Peck — it’s essentially a 90-minute ode to Kingsley’s genius. Grade: C