Thursday, July 31, 2008

The Wackness

Review by Michael Jaffe

As a white boy who listens to hip-hop, I knew that I was going to like THE WACKNESS. What I didn’t know was how much I would like it. While its easy to summarize the film as the story of one young man’s summer selling weed in New York in 1994, there is so much more to the film. There is his first love, his friendship with his psychiatrist who he trades pot for sessions, his trouble with his parents, his loneliness, his music and the city. The film comes off as a genre bender that can truly only be defined as a real film. I am 19, white and just spent a year in New York at school, so many elements of this film struck home, I find myself baffled at trying to explain just how much I enjoyed the film. But the problem is that because I can relate to the film so much, I have a view that is skewed and I am probably blinded by this fact to what could be the films faults.
But maybe that is why this is a truly great film. As a critic, I try to judge a films quality with how much it makes me feel, be it hate or lust or excitement, and this film made me feel all those things. There are moments that are sad and moments hysterical, but above all, the moments all ring as true and realistic things that happen. Last summer, SUPERBAD was a film that a lot of 17-20 year olds could relate to, not because of the ridiculous situations that the characters got into, but because of what they were feeling and going through that last summer before they go to college and THE WACKNESS is another film about that last summer of high school and of adolescence where a young man is forced to grow up and go out into the world of school and how prepares himself for this.
There really are no female characters to relate to as the two main characters are Dr. Squires, played with a youthful charm by Ben Kingsley, and the lonely Luke Shapiro. Josh Peck, of Nickelodeons DRAKE & JOSH really comes through with this role. There is no voiceover, so the audience really needs to see what is going through his head via his actions and reactions and the look of Luke through most of the film shows the sadness and confusion and regret that everyone has as they leave high school. Dr. Squires is a similarly relatable character as he reflects on his lost youth and perhaps try to regain some of it by hanging out with Luke and trying to impart some of his drugged out, psychiatric wisdom on the young lost soul.
The 1994 setting in New York allows for some great scenery, including a late scene where Squires sits drinking a 40, smoking a joint and looking as the sun sets behind the World Trade Centers. And while the usually reaction is to feel sorrow over 9/11, in the context, I had to smile and reflect on a city that even without one of its greatest landmarks continues to stand strong through all the grit and shit that you have to now dig to find. Gotta love the beauty of trash. Method Man makes a cameo as well, as Luke’s Jamaican supplier, and gives Luke “a new tape called ‘Ready to Die’.” I had to chuckle at the reference to one of hip-hop’s classic albums being referred to as new, and its on cassette.
This film was obviously made by someone who knows their subject matter and truly loves it. Songs by Craig Mack and Tribe Called Quest kept my head nodding and my lips rhyming along with classic joints that show how writer/director Jonathon Levine should keep making stuff like this like a hip-hop Woody Allen. The characters are fleshed out, the city shines through its grime, the music is good and he cast Olivia Thirby as that first love, which is always a good decision. Technically, there is a scene on the beach between Squires and Luke where the camera keeps losing its focus in the sun and everything seems to be seen through some glass, but I realized since both characters were under the influence, why not the audience to? The direction and writing keep the story moving foreword at a brisk pace, showing deft skill from Mr. Levine
But forget his technical prowess in conveying a good story, the ability to get so much across is his true gift. While not everyone may be able to get as much out of WACKNESS as this reviewer did, I would really hope that everyone is able to see it and know that what happens is all true and something that every man must go through on his route to maturity. Sorry if this review is rambling, but I saw this film two days ago and it still has so much rattling around in my head, all to the beat of “The What.” can you imagine what I was thinking when I walked out the theatre with my friends and we were all humming different songs that appeared in the film and quoting different scenes and acting as excited as I think I’ve ever seen 4 19-20 year old white boys getting out of an “indie darling film.” And the big thing is we were all smiling and laughing because despite some down moments, in the end, the characters we care about all redeem themselves and continue on to another day in the city.

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