Review by Jack Foley
JONATHAN Levine is fast emerging as one of the hippest young writer-directors around. Having impressed with the genre-bending horror flick All The Boys Love Mandy Lane, he now puts a different spin on the coming-of-age tale for The Wackness.
It’s New York, 1994, and teenage drug dealer Luke (Josh Peck) is attempting to make sense of the confusion surrounding his life. Helping and hindering in equal measure are his much older psychiatrist Dr Squires (Sir Ben Kingsley), whom Luke pays off with dope, and Squires’ flirty daughter Stephanie (Olivia Thirlby), who opens Luke’s eyes and ears to a music scene beyond hip-hop and that all-important sexual awakening.
Levine’s film sustains a wonderful sense of nostalgia in its depiction of a rapidly changing NYC, as Mayor Giuliani sets about cleaning things up, at a time when musical influences ranged from Notorious BIG to Kurt Cobain.
Needless to say, the soundtrack is a real corker (and worth owning in its own right) but Levine embellishes this backdrop with some genuinely endearing characters and by trading on his own feelings and experiences of growing up at that time. The dope factor is merely the icing on the cake and allows the filmmaker to have some fun with both the situations and his actors.
As such, the sight of Sir Ben Kingsley lighting up a bong and chilling out to the Wu-Tang Clan is worth the price of admission alone, although the wily actor still manages to ensure that Squires has plenty to say rather than becoming a stoner stereotype. His scenes of male bonding with Luke are among the strongest in the movie and give rise to at least two genuinely funny set pieces.
Peck, too, is great as the mixed-up kid trying to find his way, tapping into feelings we can all remember having in a likeable way, while Juno‘s Olivia Thirlby oozes sex appeal as the object of his affections and their romance is played out in suitably bittersweet fashion.
The Wackness won the Audience Award when it premiered at Sundance earlier this year and it’s easy to see why: it’s a film that offers an easygoing entertainment, buoyed by some killer tunes, that really ought to resonate with everyone in some way. Can you dig it? Yes, you really should.
Running time: 110mins
UK DVD Release: February 9, 2009
- Buy it on DVD (Amazon)
- Buy it on Blu-ray (Amazon)
- Read the review
- Jonathan Levine interview
- The Wackness photo gallery
- The Wackness London premiere photos
- Edinburgh Graffiti Wall Gallery
- Read our preview & US reaction