A movie about a young man who trades pot for counseling sessions may not sound as great to watch as a masked man kicking the butts of freaks and crime lords, but it is.
“The Wackness,” by writer/director Jonathan Levine, is set in 1994 and takes place in New York. The main characters, Luke Shapiro (Josh Peck) and Dr. Squires (Sir. Ben Kingsley), develop an unlikely friendship that takes the pair on a sometimes emotional roller coaster during the summer of Luke’s high school graduation.
The movie is a coming-of-age story that juxtaposes young Luke’s awkward, first-time lovemaking experience with Stephanie (Olivia Thirlby), with the aging Dr. Squires’ realization that he must come to terms with letting go of a loveless marriage.
Dr. Squires, a psychiatrist who trades marijuana for counseling sessions with Luke, is Stephanie’s stepfather. Stephanie, a popular student who was part of the in-crowd in high school, and Luke, a dope-selling loner who defines himself as a loser, develop a relationship that brings them together for a brief, summertime romance that has more meaning for one than the other.
Luke and Dr. Squires go through a variety of funny, uncomfortable and dangerous situations during the summer. Dr. Squires, who has never grown up, attempts to relive his youth vicariously through Luke, who he encourages to be more carefree and to create memories.
Hip-hop music of the era, combined with visual cues of tagging as art during the movie, including artfully created sleights that help fast-forward the audience month-by-month, add continuity to the setting.
The music is not only fun to listen to, but also meaningful to Luke, who shares mixes of his favorite music with Dr. Squires and Stephanie. Dr. Squires, in turn, shares with Luke favorites from his youth.
Music titles include: “The World is Yours,” the third single from Nas’ 1994 debut album “Illmatic;” “Heaven ‘ Hell,” a collaboration between Raekwon and Ghostface Killah of The Wu-Tang Clan; “Can I Kick It?” from A Tribe Called Quest and “Summertime,” the Grammy-Award-winning single by the DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince (Will Smith).
The on-screen relationship between Peck and Kingsley is believable and their individual performances, as well as that of the other actors, are delightful. In the middle of the movie, though, the dialogue gets a little dreary, but it finishes on a high-note.
Peck has the depth to take his character from depressed, to portraying “cool,” to unable to express emotions, to expressing love, fear, anger and finally confidence.
Peck started doing stand-up comedy when he was eight years old, and his sense of humor shines brightly in this film. He began acting at the age of 14. His acting credits include a role in an independent film, “The Newcomers,” with Kate Bosworth, a role as a regular on “The Amanda Show,” and he starred in Nickelodeon’s “Drake and Josh” with friend Jake Bell.
Academy Award-winner Kingsley is a respected film, TV and theater actor who easily took his quirky, middle-age character from a sometimes serious psychiatrist who doles out the right psycho-babble at the right time to a drugged-up, sexually frustrated husband capable of suicide.
Kingsley’s latest film was “You Kill Me,” with Tea Leoni and Luke Wilson. He recently completed filming on “Elegy” with co-stars Penelope Cruz and Dennis Hopper. Kingsley also starred in “Lucky Number Sleven” with Josh Hartnett, Bruce Willis and Morgan Freeman.
Performances by Mary-Kate Olsen (Union) and Method Man (Percy) are also worthy of mention.
Olsen plays a free spirit who enjoys drugs, booze and men. Olsen, also known as a fashion entrepreneur, recently finished a season on “Weeds,” a critically acclaimed dark comedy on Showtime.
Method Man, a member of the hip-hop recording outfit The Wu-Tang Clan, plays Luke’s Jamaican drug dealer connection. Among his acting credits, Method Man has played a number of small roles in feature films and a recurring role on HBO’s “Oz.” ”
The Wackness,” which opens in theaters on July 3, is a 2008 Sundance Audience Award-winner, and the film is rated R.