By Johnny Firecloud
|If you graduated high school in or around 1994, The Wackness was tailor-made for you.|
Written and directed by John Levine, It’s a fantastic snapshot of life in the summer of ’94 through the eyes of a kid going through the rites of passage into manhood, who’s insightful enough to be aware of the fact that this is a cornerstone moment in his life. Set in New York City, Luke (Josh Peck) is a pot dealer just out of high school who needs answers to the sudden barrage of life’s questions and conundrums. He’s worried he may be losing his mind – or worse, depressed. Luke befriends a psychiatrist named Dr. Squires (played to perfection by the great Sir Ben Kingsley) and starts attending weekly sessions with the shrink to help clear his head. His payment? Weed, of course. Kingsley’s character keeps a big glass bong on the desk in his office.
Luke’s a weed slinger with a head full of questions and philosophies but no friends to bounce them off of. Squires is the therapist more effed up than most of his patients. Together, they’re the perfect match of dysfunctionality. All of that is secondary, however, to Luke falling in love with the shrink’s step-daughter Olivia (Olivia Thirlby, in a much less annoying role than her dumb-limgo-spouting sidekick one in Juno) who happens to be a heartbreaker – and maybe more than Luke can handle. What starts as a friendship with subtle flirtation becomes a full-fledged summer romance. For him, it’s the real deal – the cute pit of agony Luke’s in, obsessing over how to tell her he loves her is counterbalanced by the fact that Olivia just seems to be drawn to the hypothetical danger of a "drug dealer" (aka "bad boy" – except he’s not) as a way of occupying her time while all her rich friends are in Europe for the summer. I bet you can guess how this one ends.
The honest emotion we experience through Luke, whether it’s a vicariously nostalgic trip back in time or otherwise, is the glue that holds this film together. Otherwise, the movie would dissolve into an arrangement of well-made characters that don’t ever reach peak interest levels. It fluctuates between quirky comedy and heartfelt drama pretty rapidly, but the acting is good enough to take you along.
Look for: Method Mad appears in a comically rastafarian turn as Luke’s supplier.
The film is only 110 minutes long, but I could’ve sat in that theater all damned day. It was like stepping into a time machine. The lingo, the music, the atmosphere… it all perfectly captures the essence of a moment of innocence in our history that our children will never experience or understand. Hard to believe it was almost 15 years ago that Tribe Called Quest and De La Soul were the hottest thing around, and skinny white kids were even more awkward than they are now at trying to xerox black culture. Pulp Fiction and Forrest Gump were in theaters, and "Beavis and Butthead" were all the rage. It was years before 9/11 and Paris Hilton and "American Idol." Imagine that.
Things weren’t perfect back in 1994, but the world sure was a hell of a lot easier to live in back then. If anything, The Wackness will take you back to that feeling, if just for a little while.