Sony // 2008 // 99 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Franck Tabouring (Retired) // January 14th, 2009
Sometimes it's right to do the wrong things.
Jonathan Levine's The Wackness is a stunning little film, and it's a real shame it only had a small theatrical run last summer. Winner of the Audience Award at the 2008 Sundance Film Festival, this hilarious and at the same time heartwarming coming-of-age comedy is a shining example of how to properly bring a clever script to the screen with plenty of care and passion. The movie has a couple of tiny flaws here and there, but its eccentric characters and fantastic ensemble cast make for a highly enjoyable experience you won't forget that easily.
It's the summer of 1994 in New York City, and recent high school graduate Luke Shapiro (Josh Peck) spends most of his time either selling pot or trading it for therapy sessions with Dr. Squires (Ben Kingsley), a depressed shrink who would give anything to gain back his youth. In fact, the two share quite an unlikely friendship, at least until Luke falls madly in love with Squires' stepdaughter Stephanie (Olivia Thirlby)...
I love The Wackness, I really do. For starters, it's an incredibly entertaining movie whose fast-paced plot is driven mostly by its offbeat characters. The central figure of course is Luke, a lonely teenager who desperately tries to become a man but finds himself struggling with quite a few setbacks. You see, Luke has no real friends his own age, he's still a virgin, and his parents have nothing better to do than spend day and night arguing over their growing financial crisis. In short, his life is a mess, and the only one he can talk to is his stoned shrink. Squires, of course, has his own set of problems, which range anywhere from being stuck in a loveless marriage to not being able to live his life to the fullest extent.
These two characters are obviously a perfect match, and watching them strolling through the streets of New York teaching each other some important lessons turns out to be a whole lot of fun. I admit some of what they tell each other sounds a little cheesy at times, but all in all, most of their reflections on life, love, and sex are darned hilarious. Apart from its delicious humor, however, the film also carries a certain dramatic touch, which slowly emerges once Luke gets involved with Squires' stepdaughter Stephanie. I'm not going into great detail here because I certainly don't want to spoil the movie for you, but what I can say is that via his relationship with her, Luke finally gets the opportunity to discover that there is, in fact, a different side to his life.
Levine and his crew also deserve a bunch of credit for successfully recreating the flair of the mid '90s. From the convincing laid-back slang to the great selection of hip-hop music (including Nas and Notorious B.I.G.), The Wackness takes you straight back to 1994. On a similar note, I also really adored the film's entire look, crafted flawlessly via Levine's funky direction and Petra Korner's stylish cinematography. The Wackness is a visually pleasing experience, and its intriguing production values supply Levine's story with even more intensity.
The brilliant cast is the film's most valuable asset. Peck is simply irresistible as Luke Shapiro, and he does a fabulous job injecting his likeable character with a convincing human touch. Acting honors also go to Ben Kingsley, who turns in an extraordinary performance as the wicked Squires, a deranged man who gets a kick out of throwing water balloons off his balcony. Rounding out the group of leads is Olivia Thirlby, a very talented young actress who shares an authentic chemistry with Peck and brings along just the right amount of energy for her role as Squires' easygoing stepdaughter.
Sony's Blu-ray edition of The Wackness boasts a terrific 2.35:1 non-anamorphic widescreen presentation with a superb image quality and an incredibly sharp picture throughout. The Dolby TrueHD 5.1 audio transfer hits all the right notes as well, although I had the slight impression that the soundtrack and other sound effects sometimes overpower the dialogue a bit. Not a big deal, but I thought I'd mention it nonetheless.
As far as the special features are concerned, the disc includes four deleted scenes totaling 5 minutes, two mediocre viral videos with Josh Peck and a 7-minute video journal about a day in Jonathan Levine's life as a busy director promoting his movie. The bonus material also includes an interesting 17-minute behind-the-scenes look, during which members of the cast and crew discuss the script, the shooting, and a bunch of other interesting things surrounding the making of The Wackness. If you want to find out a little bit more about the production of the film I recommend you listen to the commentary by Levine and Peck, who take it easy but reveal a few insightful things about the shoot, their favorite moments, the different locations, and the musical choices in the film.
If you're somebody who enjoys refreshing coming-of-age stories and you've already upgraded to Blu-ray, The Wackness is a definite must-see in high-def. It's a small film you probably haven't heard much about, but it certainly made it into my Top 10 favorite flicks of 2008. Now that's dope, isn't it?
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Scales of Justice
* 2.35:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p Widescreen)
* TrueHD 5.1 Surround (English)
* TrueHD 5.1 Surround (French)
Running Time: 99 Minutes
Release Year: 2008
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Deleted Scenes
* Viral Videos
* Official Site