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The Wackness - Preview & US reaction

The Wackness

Preview by Jack Foley

US DIRECTOR Jonathan Levine has already made an impression on UK audiences with his smart horror flick All The Boys Love Mandy Lane which also introduced us to alluring new starlet Amber Heard

He returns later this year with an even better movie, The Wackness, a coming of age tale set in ’90s New York that provides Sir Ben Kingsley with yet another mesmerising role to follow the likes of Sexy Beast, The House Of Sand & Fog and You Kill Me.

Set during the sweltering summer of 1994, when Mayor Giuliani is cracking down on New York’s darker elements, and hip-hop is permeating white youth culture, pot-dealing loser Luke Shapiro (Josh Peck) is trying to figure out how to solve his parents’ insolvency, beat depression and get laid before pushing off to college.

His psychiatrist, Dr Squires (Kingsley), trades him therapy sessions for weed and provides some form of insight into the ways of the world, even though his own marriage is crumbling. Things become more complicated, however, when Luke falls for a sexy classmate (Olivia Thirlby) who just happens to be Squire’s daughter. Will happiness prevail?

Levine himself has special memories of 1994, as it was the year he graduated high school. He’d always wanted to do a film about that time in someone’s life.

“I really like high school movies that are authentic,” he told filmschoolrejects.com while promoting the film at Sundance earlier this year. “For me, that was the best way to be authentic. Rather than trying to write a movie that takes place in present day. For me, the best high school movie is like Fast Times[At Ridgemont High] and what Cameron Crowe is like.

“And you know, now that I’m 30 I can’t fuck with what kids are doing these days so I just had to change it; go back to then. And I liked the music, you know.”

Audiences certainly seem to have agreed that the film successfully recaptured a sense of time and place, as The Wackness won the audience award for best drama, as voted for by festival-goers.

Critical response

US critics also seemed to dig its bittersweet charms. The Sundance website, for instance, wrote that “The Wackness plays like the luscious rush of first love, discovering great new music, meeting amazing personalities who impart the meaning of life, and realizing what you’re made of”.

While The Hollywood Reporter noted that it “inspired a packed Sundance house to forget their Saturday-night pains and stand up and cheer”.

Variety felt that “The Wackness treads this familiar terrain with assurance and distinction”, while ComingSoon.Net credited it with having “a great script” and being “one of the more innovative indie comedies in recent memory”.

The Wackness is released in UK cinemas on August 29, 2008.