It was All a Dream, I Used to Read Word Up Magazine
Posted by Dellamorte
Written by Andre Dellamorte
Summer, New York, 1994. Hip-hop was at its apex creatively, with Tribe Called Quest, and Biggie blowing it up. For Luke Shapiro (Josh Peck), it’s the summer his family fell apart, the summer he got therapy with Dr. Squires (Ben Kingsley), and the summer he fell in love with Stephanie (Olivia Thirlby).
Shapiro works as a pot dealer. He does it because he can and because he wants to help his family with money. He’s just graduated from high school, and his parents need help paying the bills, as they’re seconds away from being evicted. The only customer Shapiro doesn’t charge is Dr. Squires, instead he trades pot with him for their therapy sessions, which are often strained by whatever their friendship is going through that week.
Dr. Squires is seriously messed up himself. His marriage to Kristin (Famke Janssen) is falling apart, and he’s on all kinds of medications. Luke takes him out, and the doc ends up making out with a hippie chick (Mary-Kate Olsen) who is roughly a third of his age. The two tag a building and get caught by the cops. Such leads Stephanie into Luke’s life as she picks them up from jail. But Squires has one rule “Stay away from my daughter.”
Stephanie is a chain smoker, and a popular kid. Luke was never that popular, and barely is in her social circle. People didn’t hate him, but he wasn’t on the in. But there’s no one else around this summer, so Stephanie gravitates to him. The doc warns Luke repeatedly he shouldn’t, but the two have a tryst that ends poorly for Luke.
Ultimately, The Wackness is about character, not incident, but the film also feels dangerously close to home for director Jonathan Levine. It’s the sort of thing that strikes as a slightly fictionalized version of one’s own life story, and all that. And it may very well be. Unfortunately, the story itself, the arc of it is fairly well set up, and you know where the love story is going, so it becomes about the details, and more the relationship between the Doc and Shapiro as anything else. But the whole is vaguely familiar. The problem with that is that as the film moves on, and wraps up you have some grace notes that feel like the things people want to say, not what they would say, or things they might say if they were writers who were trying to have the moment they were hoping to have in that moment.
Jeremy Smith at AICN said that this plays like a first film, even though it isn’t and that thought kept resonating with me. This is an earnest movie, one that wears its heart on its sleeve, and it’s beautiful for that, and for getting Olivia Thirlby to play a chain smoker – my god she looks great in this film (thank god cinema records no smells) – and she’s excellent in the role, as are everyone. It’s a performance film, and so you get a couple of good scenes with Method Man as a Jamaican, and Jane Adams as Dues ex Machina. It’s a small movie, and a nice slice of nostalgia.
Sony’s Blu-ray is gorgeous, with the film presented widescreen (2.35:1) and in Dolby Digital 5.1 TrueHD. The film comes with a commentary by Jonathan Levine and Josh Peck, and that’s followed by “Keeping it Real: A Day in the Life of Jonathan Levine” (8 min.) as he promotes the film, the behind the scenes is called “Time in a Bottle” (18 min.), and then there’s two episodes of Luke Shapiro’s Dope show (8 min.) which would be the fictional characters cable access show from back in the day. There’s also four minor deleted scenes (5 min.), and five trailers, along with the customary bonus trailers.