Luke Shapiro (Josh Peck, "Mean Creek," "Drillbit Taylor") isn't very popular at his Manhattan school but he sells pot to his shrink, Dr. Squires (Ben Kingsley, "You Kill Me"), who happens to be the stepfather of the girl of his dreams. When the city clears out for the summer, Stephanie (Olivia Thirlby, "Juno," "Snow Angels") deigns to spend time with him and gives him an analysis of her own - where she concentrates on the here and now, he worries about what might happen, focusing all his energy on "The Wackness."
writer/director Jonathan Levine's ("All the Boys Love Mandy Lane") 2008 Sundance film has undergone considerable editing since its festival showing, yet even in its streamlined form, the film still sags. This pre-9/11 (it's set in 1994) coming of age film boasts some fine performances, but never achieves the right balance between the wacky friendship between graduating senior and juvenile psychoanalyst and Luke's ill-fated romance.
Luke's just coasting along, selling pot from an ice cream wagon, until he learns that his Upper East Side existence is threatened because his dad (David Wohl, "Saving Private Ryan," "Joe Gould's Secret") made some bad deals. The younger Shapiro hits up his source, Percy (Method Man, "Garden State," "Meet the Spartans"), for more kilos to sell to help shore up the family finances. But he's distracted when he runs into Stephanie, who offers her phone number to 'hang out.' Meanwhile he's supporting Squires who is going through a mid-life crisis in the shadow of a crumbling marriage to Stephanie's mom Kristin (Famke Janssen, "X-Men: The Last Stand"). Squires threatens Luke to stay away from his stepdaughter, but when he decides to take Kristin to Barbados to rekindle their 'magic' (actually a co-dependency on drugs and alcohol), Stephanie invites Luke to the Squires's Fire Island summer home for the weekend.
As good a job as Peck gives as the Upper East Side pot-selling senior facing a movie to New Jersey and as much fun as Ben Kingsley is as the doping childlike shrink, the film belongs to Olivia Thirlby, whose entitled princess's aura shrouds both men into stupor. She's like a cross between "Goodbye, Columbus's" Brenda Patimkin and one of the "Kids" kids. Shapiro and Kingsley must be given credit for forging a real bond, one that begins with some antagonism, turns into comic decadence (the two get arrested), then takes an unexpected turn. David Wohl shows the weight of his troubles, alternately fretting over 'extravagant' electricity use and the potential loss of everything. It's a touching performance, particularly contrasted against Luke's considerably higher tolerance for Squires's problems. Talia Balsam (2006's "All the King's Men," AMC's "Mad Men") is a good match as his Mrs. In lesser roles, Mary-Kate Olsen ("New York Minute," ShoTime's "Weeds") continues an image refit as a stoned hippie child and Jane Adams ("Little Children," "The Brave One") is poignant as a once famous musician, but both seem to have been victims of snipping. Aaron Yoo ("Disturbia," "21") continues to be notable, here seen briefly as one of the privileged Stephanie usually spends her time with.
"The Wackness" has a grungy aesthetic that proclaims summer in the city mixed with low budget filmmaking. Levine's proven a way with actors and tone, but needs to achieve a more even flow. The film works in fits and starts, but the end result doesn't satisfy.
Robin gives "The Wackness" a C+.
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