Remember the summer you graduated from high school? How about the summer of 1994? Me neither, but you might if, like Luke Shapiro, the protagonist of *The Wackness*, you spent that summer selling weed from a street cart. Or you might not, if, like Luke, you spent a good deal of that summer sampling your own wares.
Luke's got a lot on his mind, and so does *The Wackness*, I suppose, although there's a certain been-there-done-that familiarity to the movie, and not just because of it's mid-90s nostalgia. It's about a misfit guy who longs to be popular, a guy with a crush on one of the cool, popular girls (and he's a virgin and she's not). Check. It's about a decent guy who sells drugs to nice folks who need a little extra-pharmaceutical assistance. Check. It's about a teenage boy who sees a psychiatrist. Check. It's about a teenager who discovers that the psychiatrist, and all the other adults in his life, are even crazier, more miserable, and more immature than he is. Check. It's about a boy on the verge of manhood, living that summer that changed his life, etc. Check. It's *Rushmore* meets *Charlie Bartlett* meets *Running With Scissors*... with a hip hop soundtrack.
It's set in New York City in 1994, so there's lots of ranting about Giuliani (everybody hates him), and Luke (Josh Peck) listens to Notorious B.I.G. and Biggie Smalls on *tape*. He has a pager, too, and, it being those halcyon days before cellphones and ringtones became ubiquitous, he uses a pay phone to make calls. Despite his badass hip hop pretensions, he's a nondescript, slack-jawed white kid who seems not to attract the attention of the police as he peddles grass from an ices cart. His most loyal customer is Dr. Squires (Ben Kingsley), his kooky pothead psychiatrist, who trades grass for couch time and keeps a bong in his desk drawer. That's an original twist that will ultimately get even more twisted as Squires seeks to relive his wasted youth with help from Luke. Squires' advice to stressed, depressed Luke is to have sex. He doesn't know that the girl Luke would most like to get therapeutic with is Squires' stepdaughter Stephanie (Olivia Thirlby).
Written and directed by Jonathan Levine, *The Wackness* has a grubby, hazy, melancholy sweetness beneath all the strenuous quirkiness, mostly due to Peck, who is convincing as the lonely dork who wants desperately to be cool. Luke approaches his illicit trade with a genuine work ethic -- the kid is on the job night and day, but he's not exactly living the dream. Kingsley, sporting an odd accent and even odder hair, wrings as much as he can out of a character that walks the thin line between believably nutty and completely unbelievable. He offers up another of his tightly-wound, over-the-top, completely screwed up performances, putting the wack and the wacky in *The Wackness*. Both men -- the man who would be a boy and the boy who would be a man -- are likably odd and oddly likable. The same can be said for *The Wackness* which, despite working in cliche-riddled territory, tries hard to avoid cliches, and partly achieves that goal. *The Wackness* works as hard to be cool and popular as its characters do, and succeeds just about as well.