July 31, 2008

The Wackness

Young lady, I'm old enough to be your dietitian

Grade: C –

Director: Jonathan Levine

Starring: Josh Peck, Ben Kingsley, Olivia Thirlby, Mary-Kate Olsen, and Famke Janssen

MPAA Rating: R

Running Time: 1 hour, 50 minutes

Written and directed by Jonathan Levine, The Wackness won an Audience Award at this year’s Sundance Film Festival…presumably because the voting pool exclusively comprised members of the Running With Scissors and Charlie Bartlett fan clubs. Josh Peck stars as Luke, a socially, emotionally awkward teenage drug dealer who trades weed for therapy sessions with his half-baked, aging-hippie shrink (Ben Kingsley).

In an obvious effort to compose an ode to the 1990s, Levine force-feeds the decade’s plenteous pop-cultural touchstones to the audience as if they were nostalgic sustenance instead of vacuous kitsch. Ill-fitting allusions to Biggie Smalls, Kurt Cobain, Beverly Hills, 90210, and at least four rejoinders of Rudy Giuliani’s then-nascent sanitizing of New York City’s mean streets dot a rather self-indulgent plot. Count the casting of Mary-Kate Olsen among that number, if she were still 6 years-old and starring on Full House; instead, I could have gone my whole life without seeing her 5-minute role as a Phish-following flower-child end with she and Kingsley schtupping in a phone booth.

Peck and Kingsley’s eccentric performances carry little emotional depth. However, with eye-catching turns in Snow Angels and here as Luke’s inamorata, might Olivia Thirlby end up being the young actress from Juno with the most enduring, successful film career?

Neil Morris

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