"Summer 1994. The girls were fly. The music was dope. And Luke was just trying to deal."
So reads the tagline of The Wackness. And, really, little more could be said to sum up The Wackness's basic story. It's a coming-of-age film, as you might have guessed, but it's a somewhat unconventional buddy movie, as well. Then again, it's also a story of young love and the first broken heart that inevitably follows. And it's a sort of period piece, too. As you can see, despite being a fairly simple film on the surface, The Wackness transcends easy categorization.
As previously noted, the tagline really says it all. The film follows Luke Shapiro (Josh Peck) as he navigates the sweltering summer months following high school graduation. He lives in Manhattan with his parents, who seem to be struggling to maintain their standing as Upper East Siders. He has a crush on a decidedly more affluent classmate, his psychiatrist's stepdaughter, incidentally. And he sells pot to seemingly every weed-loving soul in his general vicinity (hence: "Luke was just trying to deal." Double entendre. Get it?)
One of Luke's many customers is his aforementioned shrink, played by Ben Kingsley. The two form an unlikely friendship and Luke spends the majority of his summer splitting time between pursuing Stephanie, his crush, and hanging with her stepdad, Dr. Squires. And that's basically the gist of it. But The Wackness isn't really about plot points so much as it's about what happens between plot points. It's an unexpectedly atmospheric movie, rife with great dialogue (as well as spot-on monologues) and honest interactions between real, flawed, human characters. It's beautiful.
But none of this really explains how a movie about a pot-dealing New York City teen completely obsessed me for the two or three weeks it played at the Varsity. Now, I can't really explain why this movie so violently seized my attention while only temporarily amusing my contemporaries, but I can tell you what I loved so much about this movie.
First off, I absolutely adore New York City. It's an unbelievable place and is beautifully shot in this movie. Director Jonathan Levine clearly feels as passionately about NYC as I do, because he certainly didn't shy away from making the city central to the film. The greatness that is New York fills each frame and really transports you to the scene instead of leaving you on the outside looking in. And I, for one, think his conception of 1994 Manhattan was pretty rad. (But I can't attest to its accuracy.)
Secondly, the acting in this movie was terrific. Of course one always expects Ben Kingsley to do good work, but his turn as "weird old guy" Dr. Jeffrey Squires went well beyond my personal expectations. Squires, despite being well into middle-age, is just as desperate to make sense of life as Luke is, and Kingsley really sells that facet of his character. Kingsley's Squires by no means thinks himself superior to the much-younger Luke; they're both fighting the same uphill battle together. And Josh Peck was amazing! I'd never really heard of the dude before this movie, but I guess he made a name for himself on a very popular Disney channel show called Drake and Josh (leave it to Disney to conjure up yet another unbelievably creative television show title). It suffices to say that Peck is a professional; his portrayal of Luke Shapiro carries The Wackness from start to finish without nary a misstep.
Last but not least, THE SOUNDTRACK! Oh my god, the music in this movie is out of control. Just a few minutes into the film the first few bars of Nas' "The World Is Yours" give way to an incredible dream sequence on board a subway car. I can still recall the smile that spread across my face when I saw that scene for the first time. And that's just the tip of the iceberg. Luke is a loyal fan of New York hip-hop, so the movie is littered with choice cuts from classic records like "Illmatic", "Ready to Die", and "Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers)", among others. The interplay between image and music is on-point, throughout.
I know that few people loved this movie as much as I did, so I fully expect some second-guessing here. But I could really care less. For whatever reason, this movie meant (and means) a lot to me. So bring on the tongue-lashings, if you must. On the off-chance that my feelings are hurt, I can take comfort in knowing that all I need is to pop in The Wackness once more and all will be well.