DIR/WRI: Jonathan Levine • PRO: Keith Calder, Felipe Marino, Joe Neurauter, Brian Udovich • DOP: Petra Korner • ED: Josh Noyes • DES: Annie Spitz • CAST: Ben Kingsley, Famke Janssen, Josh Peck, Olivia Thirlby, Mary-Kate Olsen
If you were born in the late ’70s you will probably find The Wackness brimming with nostalgic bits of your teenage years in the form of mid ’90s cultural iconography. But if you weren’t into Hip Hop, didn’t become a chronic dope smoker or come from a tragically dysfunctional family, you will probably find the subject matter difficult to relate to.
Set during the summer of 1994, The Wackness offers up a nostalgic backdrop for an atypical coming-of-age tale. Luke (Josh Peck), a recent high school graduate and pot-peddler, trades weed for session time with psychiatrist Dr. Jeffery Squires, played by a frazzled Ben Kingsley. Further complicating the unlikely relationship, Luke falls in love with the unconventional doctor’s stepdaughter while Jeffery’s lifeless marriage finally crumbles. Additional familiar strife on Luke’s side causes these characters to work together in an effort to save the family home by selling as much smoke as possible – hence the film’s tagline, ‘Sometimes it’s right to do the wrong things’. It all sounds so quirky and fun, but the melancholy sepia-filtered look of the film, combined with serious narrative issues of identity, legality, morality, and plain old-fashioned coming-of-age awkwardness gives this film a dark sadness.
While stoner-cinema has been popular for some time, from the classic Cheech and Chong to the more recent Dude Where’s My Car?, and of course Harold and Kumar doing whatever it is that they do, The Wackness is not a slapstick adventure of hazy stoner tomfoolery. Luke is a drug dealer, undoubtedly a title that comes with a slew of negative character presumptions. What is a disarming about Luke, however, is that he doesn’t exactly fit into any of these negative stereotypes. He is sensitive, thoughtful and sad – personality traits that perhaps even compliment a pacifistic drug like marijuana. But The Wackness takes this connection too far. Nearly every scene involves dope-smoking. The point is clear – the world is not a fairy tale, but the constant drug use moves away from being an artful tone-setter and becomes gratuitously repetitive.
Despite this criticism, The Wackness is a smart film with a pessimistic flatness that encourages the viewer to sink into the muted drama.That being said, the experience is not without a bit of fun with an awkward, cringe-inducing sex scene and the ‘Where’s Wally’ excitement of noticing mid ’90s artefacts, like an original Nintendo and bus side advertisements for Forrest Gump, sprinkled throughout the film. Like the characters that populate the drama,The Wackness is both a glass half full and a glass half empty.