Is it too early to declare The Wackness the
best film of Sundance 2008? I mean, it’s only day two (or three, if you
actually got here on opening day), but I have a hard time imagining a movie I
am going to love as completely as I loved this one. To be fair, I’m predisposed
to adoring The Wackness – it’s set in New York City in 1994,
which was where and when I was living what might turn out to be the best days
of my life. But even beyond that, I think the movie is just wonderful and is
real, honest, hilarious and even a little bit touching. Let me reiterate: I
really loved this movie.

Luke is a pot dealer just about to graduate high school. He’s not a loser, but
he’s not one of the cool kids. He only gets invited to the parties when they
need more weed. Luke is also in a very strange form of therapy – he’s selling
pot to his classmate’s shrink father, who is paying him in the form of
sessions. The Wackness takes place over the summer between high
school graduation and leaving for college as the lives of Luke and his
therapist fall apart in major ways.

Sir Ben Kingsley plays Dr. Squires, the shrink who is looking to recapture his
youth by hanging out with the dope dealing kid. He’s a huge mess, taking bong
hits in his office and a handful of pills when he gets home. Josh Peck, the fat
kid from Mean Creek (he’s not fat at all anymore) is Luke, who is
in love with Squires’ daughter, played by Olivia Thirlby, the best friend from Juno.
Peck and Kingsley have terrific chemistry (both comedic and emotional), and the
best scenes in the film are the ones where they play off each other. They’re
great apart as well, though, and Kingsley’s performance in here almost makes
you forget that he’s taken to doing Uwe Boll movies of late – even though he
sort of seems to be imitating Harvey Keitel. Peck is just incredible, playing
an Upper East Side white kid who is deep into hip hop (he discovers Biggie
Smalls over the course of the summer) and he can play whole scenes with just
his eyes. Peck’s in almost every scene of the movie, and you almost feel like
he’s not in it enough – that’s how great he is.

The Wackness opens with a few too many references to remind you
that it’s 1994, but once the movie gets going it settles into the period
perfectly. It’s weird to think that a movie set when I was 21 years old is a
period piece, and I wondered how many of the 90s jokes in the film (‘When I’m
with you I want to listen to Boyz II Men’) were lost on the older people in the
packed screening room. Who cares, though? Writer/director Jonathan Levine
perfectly captures the era and makes the New York of 94, the city that was just
beginning to turn ino Disneyland, come to life.

Levine, who directed All the Boys Love Mandy Lane (a supposedly
terrific horror film the Weinsteins bought, sat on and then dumped and which
should be getting a release this year. I have a screener I have not yet watched
– you can bet I’ll be rectifying that right quick) punctuates the general
realism of The Wackness with flights of fancy moments, including
a subway car rap video that makes for one of the best title shots of the
decade. As a screenwriter he’s deft in the way he balances absurdity and
reality; Dr. Squires is an epic fuck up and substance abuser who comes close to
Hunter S Thompson levels, but Luke’s low key white boy energy balances it all

More than once the film seems on the verge of spinning out of control and
crashing into maudlin sentiment, but Levine keeps it working. The one time when
the movie actually appears to have gone over the edge into Good Will
schmaltz (and the comparison is inevitable), Levine gives
Kingsley a gloriously snotty line that deflates it all. There’s been a lot of
talk about how the cynical, ironic generation would never be able to make
movies that have heart, but The Wackness proves that they sure as
hell can, and that you can walk out of a movie feeling good about the
characters and where they end up without feeling manipulated or like you’ve
been coated in cheese.

It’s worth noting that The Wackness – which as of now has no
distributor, but that’ll be changing damn fast – has an incredible soundtrack
of mid-90s hip hop. Whoever buys this movie needs to make sure they release a
CD of this immediately; The Wackness could be the leading edge of a 90s

There’s a lot more to say about this movie, including the wonderful supporting
turns by Method Man as a Jamaican drug lord and – gasp! – Mary Kate Olsen as a
Phish Head, but I’m pressed for time. I look forward to seeing this movie again
when it gets released, and writing up a longer review. I’m really looking
forward to all of you discovering and falling in love with this movie.

9 out of 10