July 11, 2008

REVIEW: The Wackness (B)

Background: I have a prediction. The 90's are the new 70's. Watch for several of the following to catch on again in the near future, if they haven't already: tapered jeans, flannel shirts, cassette tapes, Doc Martens, fluorescent colors, slap wristbands, Sega, pagers, Zima, British Knights, Cross Colours, laser tag, and the phrase "word up" (a personal favorite of mine). OK, so I stole a few of those from The Wackness, which I previewed after it played at MSPIFF. Eat my shorts if you have a problem with that. Psyyych! Alright, anyway, Jonathan Levine (All the Girls Love Mandy Lane) is getting "this party started right" with his semi-autobiographical film starring Josh Peck, Ben Kingsley (Gandhi...sigh...The Love Guru), and Olivia Thirlby (Snow Angels, Juno). Also making appearances are Mary-Kate Olsen and Method Man, who believe it or not has already appeared in a film in 2008. The Wackness, one of my sleepers in the Getafilm Box Office Moguls League, was the Audience Award winner at Sundance last January.

Synopsis: It's the hot summer of 1994, and New York City is undergoing an identity change with the arrival of street-sweeping mayor Rudolph Giuliani. The year is 1994. Luke Shapiro (Peck), is a dope-dealing dreamer whose closest confidant is a shrink, Dr. Jeffrey Squires (Kingsley). Squires happens to be both the father of Luke's crush, Stephanie (Thirlby), and also Luke's most loyal customer, exchanging fluffy advice for dimebags once a week. Luke and Stephanie have just graduated high school (Class of 1994), and Luke needs to figure out what to do with his life. When not daydreaming about life away from his detached parents, Luke pals around with Squires or Stephanie, making trouble or making love, depending on the person. As the drug and alcohol-fueled summer of 1994 comes to an end, we find out if Luke has learned how to see the "dope" side of life - and if he's put his trust in the right Squires. (Don't forget, it takes place in 1994).

I Loved:
+ The soundtrack. Wow, how could you not?A Tribe Called Quest, The Notorious B.I.G., Method Man, Raekwon, KRS-One,
and, of course, Mott the Hoople.
+ Ben Kingsley, who's never seen a role he didn't like. Long-haired and strung-out, this one somehow works.

I Liked:
+ Josh Peck and Olivia Thirlby, individually and as a couple, they were perfectly cast in these roles. Watch for Thirlby's stock to rise sky high after this one.
+ The graffiti and other graphic stylings.

I Disliked:
- Mary-Kate Olsen.
- The darkness over every frame. I don't know if this was a style decision (a lens filter) or a technical issue (bad lighting), but it was annoying either way. Or wait, was that how it looked in 1994?
- Method Man and his "Jamaican" accent. Jamaican me roll my eyes.

I Hated:
- Jonathan Levine's obsessive referencing of the year 1994 - the music, the language, the clothes, the news, the city, and on and on and on. This isn't a period piece. It's 14 years ago.

Writing - 7
Acting - 10
Production - 9
Emotional Impact - 8
Music - 5
Significance - 4

Total: 43/50= 86% = B

Last Word: It should say something about a movie when the soundtrack jumps out at you as the highlight. As with The Wackness, the sum never quite equals the parts. Take away the music and the cool graphics and the nostalgia, and it's a fairly bland story. Don't get me wrong, it was fun in the sense that I chuckled here and there and was moderately entertained, but for an original story it lacks emotional depth and even a bit of real world relevance. We're supposed to see the "dope" side of life and not the "wack" side? It's a cute phrase, but a little too immature if you're trying to send any type of meaningful message.

I don't know if that was Levine's motive here, though. This is partly his life story, after all, and it's a tale of young love that most anyone can relate to. He gets extra points for the music and the clever styles thrown in here and there, but the writing gets a little tired and the ending felt rushed. So I guess I'm saying that there are unfortunately just enough flaws to overshadow the good stuff.

As The Wackness's Sundance win overlapped with Juno's road to Oscar glory (quick, name the 10 best movies of 2007 - where's Juno?), comparisons between the two have jumped up all over the place. As far as I'm concerned, the only similarity they share is the song "All the Young Dudes", which, as it happens, was also used in another teen movie: 1995's Clueless. Was it meant to be yet another 90's reference?

While i
t's an entertaining departure for a hot summer night, there just isn't enough dopeness in The Wackness to set it apart from the scads of other coming-of-age movies these days. See it to appreciate the music and the cast (and to, ahem, help my box office numbers), but then get with the times.


  1. Cannot wait to see this!

    Nice review man.

  2. Juno also shared Olivia Thirlby, but The Wackness put her to much better use. Any movie that doesn't force her to say "Oh my blog!" is putting her to better use, though I'll admit some people are going to hate the excessive slang in this movie.

    But I digress. It's funny our takes on this movie are so different. I only liked it a little bit more than you, but the things I liked are different and the things that bugged me are different.

    The music didn't do anything for me. The fact that it was so heavily 1994 didn't bother me. The guy was writing what he knew. It was layed on a little thick, but I didn't mind.

    I actually kind of liked Mary Kate and the green haze that seemed to be over everything made it feel like a stoned memory to me.

    Mostly, it made me laugh so it gets a free pass in most other areas.

    We agree that Ben Kingsley was great.

    Hah...I feel like I'm being argumentative, but I'm really not. It just surprises me sometimes how two reasonable people can have such different perceptions about things.

  3. Thanks, Nick. My gut says you're going to enjoy it quite a bit more than I did, the teen angst angle and such, haha...

    I ended up coming down on this a lot harder than I expected to. After it soaked in I guess I realized it wasn't the gem I hoped it would be.

    Juno did also share Olivia Thirlby - I missed it! Too bad she's not the star in either movie. And even if the music didn't do anything for you, Craig, I know she did.

    On the other hand...Mary-Kate? I felt like she was trying to play some weird caricature of herself. And for what's it worth, the make out session with Kingsley did nothing for me.

    Yeah, we're arguing about a movie that we both mostly liked - but what were the things that bugged you?

  4. "Jamaican me roll my eyes."

    Hah hah hah hah hah hah hah hah.


    That sounds like something that you hear on Saturday morning cartoons as a wee one and then never can forget for the rest of your natural life, Danny.

    Have to say. EVERYTHING I heard about this film sounded completely bogus. But the trailer was surprisingly entertaining and pulls you in effortlessly.

    However, the 90s thing (even in those few minutes) is kind of overreaching, I thought.

    I mean, I GET IT.

    Just some random observations. I likely won't see this anyway.

  5. I know I will like it...I mean I was only 3 years old in 1994 but I am a sucker for anything teen angsty {it' quite pathetic actually, I'm like a walking stereotype}.

    Olivia Thirlby is just the best thing since, well, anything really. I have not seen her in anything that she has been in post-Juno, which is sad. But I want to.

    Stoned memory Craig? I only have one, and it wasn't pretty.

  6. Hehe, a corny pun circa 1994, Miranda. Fitting, I thought.

    You know, I can't tire of this terrific trailer as many times as I've seen it. Had I not caught it at the festival if would have been a must-see later today. Whether or not it's a great movie is kind of beside the point - it's sure to be a crowd-pleaser, as it was at Sundance.

    You're not pathetic or a stereotype, Nick! If you're a teen, you should relate to these movies.

  7. Why do you move your posts around? Just so you get more comments on reviews that are lacking comment wise?

    Lame, and sad really.

  8. I confused. Nothing's ever moved here.

    Please explain what you're talking about, cuz if I know you I would have expected a better joke at my expense...

    Not a bad idea, though - actually, would you mind just writing that same thing as a comment on a bunch of my older posts? Thanks.

  9. Hmmmm...

    You know, comments that idiotic don't even deserve to see the light of day. There are ways of dealing with them.

    Still, looks like somebody got their useless ass kicked. DESERVEDLY.

    Danny's the man...

  10. lol, thanks, Miranda.

    I'm open to feedback and people can say what they like in the comments, but I really am just baffled as to what that meant. If somebody can clarify, please do so!

  11. The movie bugged me when it tried for the drama too hard. As long as it stuck to comedy, it worked for me.

  12. As always, Dan, your review is thorough and appealingly categorized. I have avoided seeing this, but have been tempted after Craig's decent enough report from the LAFF. I see you did love the music, but I guess the real appeal here is Kingsley himself.

  13. Ah yes, Craig, I remember you saying that now after you saw it at LAFF. And I very much agree.

    Thank you, Sam. You've navigated my hodge-podge of a review quite well. Kingsley and the music (depending on one's taste) are the shining light in an otherwise (quite literally) dark comedy.

  14. Nice review. I hope to get this at my theater in a couple of weeks. We'll see, though. If we don't, I'll probably wait to catch this one on DVD.

    I'm curious as to why, if you loved the music aspect so much, that you only gave that part a 5 at the end.

  15. Thanks, Justin. It'll play well with a younger demographic, to be sure. Anybody between 18-35 will get the references. My music "category" is actually only rated out of 5, so this got the highest mark. Unfortunately it wasn't enough to bump the whole movie's grade up.

  16. I got a shirt and the soundtrack to this in the mail on Friday, and a download for it popped up somewhere, so I hope to see it soon. For realz, I've been waiting a while to see it, and I really am not that patient.

  17. We can wear our Wackness T-shirts together, Nick. Then we'll make all the cool kids jealous!

    I'm curious as to how this will fly in SA, what with all the references to the U.S. in the 90's. Actually I think you might enjoy those more than I did - it will be something new.

  18. Just saw it, and I really did like it.

  19. Nice - I'm sure your review will be ridiculous. Lots of angst, lots of angst, haha...


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