There’s always one independent movie that premieres at the Sundance Film Festival and goes on to be the year’s most groundbreaking film. A film that is worthy to compete among other Oscar nominees. This year, THE WACKNESS is definitely it! Written and directed by Jonathan Levine, THE WACKNESS is one of the best, most creative movies of the year. It’s nostalgic and edgy at the same time. There should definitely be more movies like this!

It’s the summer of 1994, and the streets of New York are pulsing with the sounds of hip-hop and wafting with the sweet aroma of marijuana. However, change is in the air as the newly inaugurated mayor, Rudy Giuliani, is beginning to implement his anti-fun initiatives; against “crimes” like noisy portable radios, graffiti and public drunkenness. The main character, Luke Shapiro (Josh Peck), is spending his last summer before college selling dope throughout New York City. He happens to be trading dope for therapy with his shrink Dr. Squires (Ben Kingsley) who happens to have an attractive and appealing step-daughter (Olivia Thirlby).

The WacknessI love the 1994 setting. Everything from the music, the slang, the clothing, the media and the pop culture; it looks like writer/director Jonathan Levine took us back in time to what he believes was the best year ever. Not only does he capture the vibe of the 90’s the story is relevant to most young people today. It speaks to feelings of uncertainty about one’s future, how it’s easy to blame yourself or to be angry at your parents and the world around you.

The most crucial part of the storyline is the relationship between the therapist, Dr. Squires and the character Luke. Both of them think that they have F*d up lives and they don’t deserve to hate life this much. I think each of them finds out that by helping the other, he can in turn help himself. By helping Luke, Dr. Squires realizes that he’s not a total failure despite losing the respect of his wife and his step-daughter. By helping Dr. Squires, Luke realizes not only has he found a friend he’s found a summer to remember.

In my opinion, Hip-Hop was more lyrically and musically profound back in this era and it really helps to tell the story in each scene just as much as the scene tells the story itself. Writer/director Levine keeps showing us of how life in 1994 significantly affects the characters and influences the way they make judgments or decisions.

The actors are perfect for their roles; it’s as if the story was written with all of them in mind. Josh Peck who plays Luke Shapiro is a revelation, a brilliant, talented young actor with a promising future ahead of him. It’s as if all the years of his life have been leading him up to this one movie. Olivia Thirlby, Famke Jannsen, and even Method Man are all excellent supporting actors. I like how Olivia Thirlby’s character decides to smile at the end knowing that even though Luke feels heartbroken, he’s going to be all right.

And Sir Ben Kingsley is just an ultimate master in the art of acting. It never ceases to impress me how he manages to improvise. It’s not so much in his lines, but the mannerisms he gives to his character. He is very good at adding in certain interesting gestures, facial expressions and body language that actually speak louder than the words he says. What a great actor!
I think writer/director Jonathan Levine should be nominated for this ‘urban’ masterpiece. The freedom he gives his actors to really embody the richness of the characters he’s created is a sign of full understanding between him and the people involved in his project.

He makes a good point when stating that “In order to be mature and responsible, in order to move on to the next chapter and take on the next obstacle, sometimes it’s okay to make mistakes and learn from them. Beware of those who think they’re perfect in every way.”

My grade for this film: 5 out of 5


All work and no play makes the Young & Successful feel unbalanced! To rescue our overworked souls, YSN member and movie aficionado Rama Tampubolon discusses the latest hot topics and movie reviews every Thursday on Waste Time Wisely. He runs the movie review and discussion blog, Rama’s Screen, and was featured in “United 300,” which won for “Best Spoof” at the 2007 MTV Movie Awards.