Nowadays, Hollywood fires more gigantic mega million dollar movies at our faces than a crazed cheerleader with a high-powered T-shirt gun. Every now and then a change of pace can be a little refreshing. Enter, The Wackness.
Never heard of it? That's OK, I still hold you in the highest regard. Let me drop some knowledge in your general direction. The Wackness is a comedy that made a splash over at the 2008 Sundance Film Festival by picking up the Audience Award for director Jonathan Levine. The film got picked up and is now being distributed by Sony Pictures Classic for release in the US this July. I was lucky enough to get invited to an advanced screening, where I sat back in the comfiest of chairs and got taken back to a much more simpler time: 1994.
You heard right, the time period this movie specifically takes place in is 1994, and if you think they won't constantly remind you of that during the film, you've got some kind of nerve. At first it seemed a little silly to me; a time period piece about 1994? Wasn't that like 2 weeks ago? I thought it would be fun to get off my lazy ass and check to see what if anything happened back in '94, and found the following:
- Green Day's first major album debuts.
- Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman are found, murdered outside of OJ's home.
- Kurt Cobain is found dead in Seattle. Eyebrows are raised in Courtney Love's direction.
- The Lion King and Forrest Gump first hit theaters on the same day and simultaneousl y make movie history, as well as the box office their be-otch.
If anything, it's kind of a cool but short trip down memory lane. The Wackness opens up in the summer of '94 in NYC. The streets are flooding over with hip-hop, and everyone's complaining about big bad mayor Giuliani cracking down on boom boxes in public, vandalism, public drunkenness/urination and weed. You know, God-given rights. Particularly upset about the weed is Luke Shapiro. Luke (Josh Peck) is graduating High School, and is a socially uncomfortable guy who has issues with his parents, and whose only friends his age are fellow classmates that are interested in buying weed off him.
His only real friend is Dr. Squires (Ben Kingsley), a strung out and slightly immature psychiatrist, who exchanges free shrink sessions with Luke in exchange for dime bags. Not a bad deal, if you ask me. Dr. Squires is in a rapidly failing marriage, and is upset with his own life to pretty much the maximum degree. The movie focuses on the awkward, unique friendship shared by the two; their drug habits, their desires in life, and their futures. Dr. Squires advises Luke stops worrying, to live out his youth while he can and most importantly, to get laid. Luke advises Squires to kick his massive pill/drug addictions, and stop worrying himself.
Like I said, the movie is a change of pace. Coming of age teen stories are usually an acquired taste, but for what it was worth, the movie wasn't bad. The friendship between Shaprio and Squires has its funny moments, and the developing feelings Shapiro has for Squires stepdaughter, Stephanie (Olivia Thirlby from Juno) manages to make some of the interactions between Shapiro and Squires a little funnier.
Watching the coming of age and life lessons learned by both Luke and his "you should never be a mentor, ever" mentor, Dr. Squires are kind of touching, but my favorite part of the movie was the acting of Ben Kingsley (Dr. Squires). His awkward over-the-hill vibes made me laugh more than anything else in the movie " he's almost like an older, creepier, more strung out Steve Carell. Oh yeah, Mary Kate Olsen and Method Man are technically in this movie as a very annoying hippy, and a drug dealer, even if it's for about 10 minutes a piece.
The Bottom Line: This is a coming of age teen movie; a genre you probably already have strong feelings about, one way or another. It may not be on par with some of the better-known movies of the same genre (Breakfast Club, Pretty in Pink, etc) for the reason that the story isn't incredibly engaging, but it still stands out for having unique characters, and the fact that it's incredibly specific about being set in 1994. If these kinds of movies are your bag, or if you're just yearning for a heavy change of pace from the usual gigantic, visual Hollywood lineup, go give it a try, you might be surprised. If these movies aren't your thing, it shouldn't make a difference because odds are you stopped reading this a couple minutes ago. Jerks.