The Wackness

The Wackness (2008)
★ / ★★★★

I thought I would like this film more than I did. I certainly didn’t expect to feel like I couldn’t sit through it less than the half-way mark. “The Wackness” is about a teenage drug-dealer (Josh Peck) who does it for two reasons: to keep his distance from his parents because the two adults fight like children all the time and to support himself (and eventually his family). The main character is also a loner whose only friend is a strange psychiatrist going through a midlife crisis (played by Ben Kingsley). Incidentally enough, Peck falls for Kingsley’s stepdaughter, played by the always brilliant Olivia Thirlby. And Kingsley preys on a girl Peck initially liked (Mary-Kate Olsen). That’s only some of the strange coincidences that didn’t work at all. Pretty much all of the characters are unlikeable–they have the chance to make their lives a lot better but they choose to drug themselves instead. In other words, it’s another one of those “Hey, look at me! I’m being indie!” kind of movies that I’ve grown to abhor over the years. Jonathan Levine, the director, thinks that by changing the setting into something urban (instead of suburbia) and featuring rap music (instead of indie pop), he’s doing something unique. To me, it’s not a breath of fresh air because, despite being the antithesis of most indie comedies, it still follows the same tired formula. It’s supposed to be a comedy but it’s not funny at all because the characters are beyond miserable. I want to feel sorry for them more than I want to laugh with them. Not to mention that the humor is mostly directed to early to mid-teens because of the way the younger characters speak. The only thing I could stand about this film is Thirlby and that’s because I’m a big fan of some of her past work (“Snow Angels,” “Juno”). I found no redeeming quality in this film. It will forever remain a mystery to me why it got so much praise at Sundance.

3 replies »

  1. It sounds vaguely like “Midnight Cowboy”, a 1969 film, which, as with The Wackness, had Dustin Hoffman in it.

    I noted in your archives that you’d seen “Midnight Cowboy”, and appear to have liked it – perhaps as much as did I?

    But I’ll give “The Wackness” a miss.

  2. As you already know, I liked this movie a lot more than you did(which doesn’t say much, considering you didn’t like it at all, heh.). I saw a (admittedly somewhat naive) 1994 period piece where you saw a film desperately trying to be hip, and even though I never neither use drugs nor endorse drug use of any kind, I kind of liked that this movie didn’t moralize. For the first ten minutes or so, I had the same problems with ‘The Wackness’ that I once had with ‘Juno’ (the street lingo felt sort of forced at first), but when I first grew accustomed to it, it stopped bothering me.

    ‘The Wackness’ is not flawless, but to me it actually felt quite fresh, because of the relationship between Josh Peck and Ben Kingsley’s character, and because it dared to be so specific about it’s place in recent pop culture, in an unforced way.

    Still, I suspect we’ll never even come close to agree on this one, heh. (It could also be that I loved it more because I had just seen this incredibly boring Macedonian moral drama ‘I’m from Titov Velez’ at my local film festival, and ‘The Wackness’ gave me a light-hearted break).

    My review:

  3. Lucinda: I did like “Midnight Cowboy” but I don’t think I’ll watch it again any time soon. It was pretty slow but I give it credit for being daring at the time of its release.

    Jørgen (I hope I did that symbol thing right…): If I did half-stars, I would probably give “The Wackness” that rating. It was so painful to watch, I wanted to bang my head on the screen. “Juno,” to me, felt much more natural because I guess I know some people that kinda talk like the characters in that film. In “The Wackness,” a lot of people talked “ghetto” and it’s too much. I felt like everybody talked liked that except for the adults. Yeah, in reality, you can go to the poorer side of the urban areas but not EVERY SINGLE teen talks like that.

    Also, unlike you, I thought the so-called relationship between Peck and Kingsley was so contrived. Kingsley behaves like a child and they have nothing in common. And if that’s the point of it, I still felt like the filmmakers were urging me that they’re supposed to be learning from each other. Maybe it was hard for me to find their connection because I couldn’t relate to either of them. =\

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