A long time ago in a decade far far away

THE WACK­NESS Di­rected by Jonathan Levine. Star­ring Ben Kings­ley, Josh Peck, Olivia Thirlby, Famke Janssen, Mary-Kate Olsen, Jane Adams, Method Man

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Filmreviews - MICHAEL DWYER

16 cert, Cineworld/IFI/ Light House, Dublin, 99 min YOU MIGHT think it’s a bit soon to be get­ting all nos­tal­gic for the mid-1990s, but The Wack­ness wal­lows in that era. Writ­ten and di­rected by Jonathan Levine, whose film school grad­u­a­tion short dealt with a drug-ad­dicted hip-hop DJ, The Wack­ness is set is New York in the sum­mer of 1994, the year Levine grad­u­ated from high school.

Awash with scratchy sam­ples, the sound­track fea­tures Nas, A Tribe Called Quest, Wu-Tang Clan and R Kelly. There’s talk of No­to­ri­ous BIG, who was still alive, and Kurt Cobain, who had just died. Con­ver­sa­tions are pep­pered with pe­riod slan­guage, most promi­nently fea­tur­ing “dope”, a syn­onym for “cool”, and “the wack­ness”, in­di­cat­ing that which is neg­a­tive.

Posters for For­rest Gump are em­bla­zoned on Man­hat­tan buses. Peo­ple use old-fash­ioned pagers and pub­lic phones to com­mu­ni­cate. The Twin Tow­ers are still stand­ing. And the city’s mayor, Ru­dolph Gi­u­liani, has em­barked on his zero tol­er­ance cam­paign.

Gi­u­liani is the sub­ject of sev­eral deroga­tory ref­er­ences from Dr Squires (Ben Kin­g­ley), a potsmok­ing psy­chi­a­trist who pro­vides anal­y­sis ses­sions for 18-year-old Luke Shapiro (Josh Peck) in ex­change for the mar­i­juana Luke ped­dles from an ice cream cart on the streets.

Luke, who has just grad­u­ated from high school, is self-ab­sorbed, and like Ben­jamin in The Grad­u­ate, he’s a lit­tle wor­ried about his fu­ture. His fa­ther has fi­nan­cial prob­lems and the fam­ily faces evic­tion from their up­per east side home.

Luke is as sex­u­ally frus­trated as he is in­ex­pe­ri­enced. Al­though Squires en­cour­ages him to lose his vir­gin­ity, he dis­cour­ages Luke when the teen falls for the doc­tor’s at­trac­tive, con­fi­dent step­daugh­ter, Stephanie (Olivia Thirlby from Juno). Mean­while, the psy­chi­a­trist’s sec­ond mar­riage, to a glacial younger woman (Famke Janssen), is fall­ing apart.

The Wack­ness won the au­di­ence award at this year’s Sun­dance fes­ti­val, af­firm­ing the en­dur­ing ap­peal of the com­ing-of-age movie in which the pro­tag­o­nist is a trou­bled, in­se­cure male teen. For all its fa­mil­iar­ity, and de­spite fea­tur­ing di­a­logue that at times sounds more scripted than nat­u­ral, the movie is spiked with a re­fresh­ing di­rect­ness and an oblig­a­tory quirk­i­ness that re­sists pre­dictabil­ity.

It also gains sig­nif­i­cantly from Kings­ley’s im­mer­sion in his role, com­plete with long hair, a goa­tee and flashy shirts. He plays the psy­chi­a­trist – who well mer­its the ad­mo­ni­tion, “Physi­cian, heal thy­self” – with a well-judged blend­ing of wit, sen­si­tiv­ity and sub­tlety.

This is the third Kings­ley movie re­leased here this month, and along with the Philip Roth adap­ta­tion El­egy, it pro­vides atone­ment for his act­ing crimes in the un­speak­able The Love Guru.


Guess what’s on his mind? Josh Peck in The Wack­ness

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