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The Wackness

USA 2007
Directed by
Jonathan Levine
96 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Sharon Hurst
3 stars

The Wackness

Synopsis: New York City – 1994. Psychiatrist Geoff Squires (Sir Ben Kingsley) is in session with his patient, a final year high school student, Luke Shapiro (Josh Peck). Luke is in despair over his unpopularity at school, his lack of a girlfriend, and his family’s imminent eviction from their home. He makes money to try to postpone the lattter by dealing dope, even paying for his therapy session with weed. Squires and his wife (Famke Janssen) are at a crossroads in their life and the doctor and patient set out in a common quest for happiness and to get laid. But when Luke sets his sights on fellow schoolmate, Stephanie (Olivia Thirlby), who happens to be the doctor’s step-daughter.

Against a background of emerging hip-hop and Mayor Giuliani’s clean-up of The Big Apple, The Wackness is an oddly entertaining film which won the audience's heart at Sundance. Despite lacking major substance, it is certainly a highly original coming-of-age story with some great acting, funny scenes and a lot of affection for its screwball characters.

The biggest plus for me in this film is the marvellous and unexpected performance of Ben Kingsley. The opening scene is so against expectations, as the good doctor lights up a huge bong, establishing clearly that this is no usual psychoanalyst but one as screwed-up as his patients. Squires is in fact a ridiculously immature man, dropping water bombs on passers-by and so desperately hanging on to his youth yet there is a poignant side to this character that tempers our laughter at him.

In contrast, Luke seems so much more mature than all the adults surrounding him. He speaks to his Dad as if he, Luke, is the parent, and manages to keep a very level head in running his illegal business. He is also a real softy, delivering a voice-over that reflects plenty of true heart.

Although aspects of the script are witty, others are a little pedestrian – the whole idea of the coming-of-age love heartache that sets the main character on the road to real adulthood has been done a little too much. One plot point that worried me especially was that the cops never once approach Luke as he pushes his ice-cream truck, laden with marijuana packets, around the parks, with not an ice-cream to be seen, let alone how it was never stolen by ne'er-do-wells. On the other hand there are plenty of real gems of scenes with unexpected plot points and a real emotional undertone beneath the eccentricity.

One other minor character worthy of mention is Eleanor played by Jane Adams. Another hopeless dope fiend, Eleanor delivers a couple of the film’s most pointedly sad lines, lines which make us realise how many dysfunctional and lonely people are barely getting through life without some sort of chemical support.

I sometimes get tired of seeing so much drug use portrayed on the screen as if it’s a normal part of everyday life but for some people it clearly is (there are also some funny references to the entire issue of prescription drugs). But the fact that one ends up really liking these characters despite their screwed up lifestyles is a testament to the excellent performances and the wry qualaity that makes the film stand a little apart from the usual run-of-the-mill comedy fare.




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