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The Wackness
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Movie Details

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Ben Kingsley, Famke Janssen, Josh Peck, Olivia Thirlby, Mary-Kate Olsen, Method Man, Jane Adams, Douglas J. Aguirre, Nicole Berger, Charlene Biton, Jack Caruso, Peter Conboy, Sean Dillon, Aaron Yoo, Nick Schutt, Dawn Noel Pignuola, Natalie R Ridley

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The Wackness (2008)
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Movie Review by Jarrod
July 8th, 2008

'The Wackness' is able to generate nostalgic fondness for the year 1994, and this is especially true for someone like me, to whom the 90s decade marked his journey through adolescence, I finished junior high and started high school, developed an addiction to video games (thanks the SNES, N64, and Playstation), and spent my summers on vacation, not thinking much about the future, not worrying about jobs or the economy (which was doing very well under Clinton, and gas was affordable); it was, for me, a happy time. In essence, I probably felt a lot like some of the characters in this movie, whose feelings of contentment come more from marijuana than from the actual realities of their lives. One of them is Luke Shapiro (Josh Peck), a drug dealer and recent high school graduate; he sold weed to his classmates, but never had any real friends, nor was he extremely popular, he simply supplied the kids with a recreational substance, and has amassed a small fortune that apparently would allow him to pay his way through college, when and if he decided to go. Luke's parents fight a lot, and he spills his guts and seeks advice from psychiatrist Jeffrey Squires (Ben Kingsley), who also happens to be one of Luke's clients. Squires reminds me of Timothy Leary, the pot-smoking academic who was one of the founders of the counterculture movement in the 1960s. So, Luke's sessions cost him no money, Squires only requires a hefty amount of ganja. Squires tells Luke that the most important thing he can do is get laid, which Luke is probably thinking about most of the time; the girl he has a crush on is Stephanie (Olivia Thirlby), Squires's stepdaughter. Squires is contemplating splitting up with her mother, Kristin (Famke Janssen), as their marriage is on the rocks, and she seems emotionally distant. Kingsley more or less steals the show, in one of his best performances since House of Sand and Fog; it won't him an Oscar, but he plays Squires against type, makes him eccentric and engaging, and I honestly did not quite recognize him initially, from the side, he kind of looks like John Hurt, all disheveled and unkempt.

Sir Ben has finally appeared in something worthy of his talents, a modestly budgeted independent project that is character-oriented, so he does not tarnish his reputation and look like a sell-out, as he did with Bloodrayne, Thunderbirds, or, most recently, The Love Guru. It would be difficult to share the screen with Ben Kingsley and hold one's own ground, but Josh Peck does this beautifully; he is magnetic and charismatic as Luke, and has come a long way since that show on Nickelodeon he did with Drake Bell. This is a mature and intelligent performance, and could help Peck become a respected and enduring adult actor. Thirlby is terrific as Luke's love interest, who is not interested in serious relationships, but she does enjoy sex, and can be rather aggressive in her efforts to steal Luke's virginity. Not a shy girl, by any means. She hangs out with Luke only to pass time until her friends return from their summer vacations, and he certainly must realize this, and knows that if he becomes attached to her, those feelings will not be reciprocated, but he confronts this. The film throws out continuous 90s references, to keep reminding us of the time period, and this grows a bit tiresome, and Kingsley gets to make out with Mary-Kate Olsen; he is old enough to be her grandfather (maybe even her great-grandfather, he is 63 and she is 21), it is kind of gross, but Olsen is bold and fearless in the scene; I am sure Kingsley did not object, but it must have felt awkward for him. The soundtrack is loaded with a diverse assortment of songs, most of them major hits in 1994, and many of them from rap artists like the late Notorious BIG, Nas, Ghostface Killah, and R Kelly, before that underage prostitute scandal disrupted his career.

Given his failed bid for the presidency, 'The Wackness' provides a fascinating look at the New York Rudy Giuliani inherited in 1994, when he became mayor, and started cracking down on drugs and crime. He supposedly dealt a significant blow to New York mafia syndicates, and his leadership following the events of 9/11 increased his popularity, even if, like Bush, he milked that tragedy for political gain. But, for folks like my uncle who are veteran New Yorkers, Giuliani's legacy is hotly contested. They readily admit that he did accomplish some good things, but they also believe that he was a rigid, self-righteous, and ultimately self-serving politician, who did not confront some problems and issues until they got so bad he simply could not ignore them any longer.

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