by Zack Roddy
Set in the blazingly hot summer of 1994 New York City, just when rap and hip/hop began to break its way into the mainstream, The Wackness centers on Luke Shapiro (Josh Peck). Luke is a pot dealer, a loner, is depressed, and is a recent high school graduate. He has no idea what he wants to do with his life, and he spends his days wasting away at home, watching his parents viciously argue, mostly about their impending eviction from their apartment. Having no friends, just clients, the only solace Luke finds is in his love for rap and hip/hop.
He also finds solace in Dr. Jeffrey Squires (Ben Kingsley), one of his clients, who is a depressed therapist. Luke and the doctor have a little agreement: free therapy sessions for free pot. Luke and Squires are far more alike than they seem, and the two men form a strong bond that goes beyond a normal doctor patient relationship. They also both agree that there is only one prescription that can ease their pain: they both need to get laid. As the summer progresses, both men try unsuccessfully to fulfill their quest, and Luke begins falling hard for Squires’ beautiful, free spirited stepdaughter, Stephanie (Olivia Thirlby). But once the doctor discovers the relationship, he goes way off the deep end, and Luke may just be the only one who can bring him back.
The Wackness offers a fresh, if not somewhat inane, blend of drama and comedy, sometimes within the very same scene. Written and directed by Jonathan Levine, the film boast fine performances from its excellent cast, especially from Ben Kingsley and Josh Peck, who drops his Nickelodeon persona and occupies someone real. The film is also authentic in keeping up with the 1994 New York lifestyle. The characters use pagers, not cell phones, the clothing styles are accurate, and there are many humorous references to the then recently elected Mayor Rudy Giuliani. An ultimately rewarding and touching film, The Wackness is crucial to hip/hop and movie connoisseurs.