Monday, July 7, 2008

The Dopeness of "The Wackness"

I saw The Wackness on Thursday, which I’ve been honestly waiting to see since I learned Mary-Kate Olsen infiltrated the cast. Not to mention I have a MAJOR girl crush on Olivia Thirlby -- totally wish I could look like her/treat relationships with the degree of nonchalance she does in the movie.

Anyway, the film itself was better than I expected, though I was disappointed with Mary-Kate’s much hyped role as it ended up really only being about 7-10 minutes of actual screentime. The crux of the movie relies on the nuanced relationship between recent high school grad and pot dealer Luke Shapiro (Josh Peck) and his therapist Dr. Squires (SIR Ben Kingsley), who suffers from the throes of a startling midlife crisis that eventually leads to his third divorce. The movie attempts to explore the complex loneliness that plagues the human condition in New York City in the 1990’s, when Giuliani was just beginning to dig his claws into the city’s grime (this, in fact, is a major theme throughout the film with many references to Giuliani and his rather fascist attempts to cater to the bourgeois class). Though the relationship between Shapiro and Squires’ stepdaughter, Stephanie, is stirring at best, it’s the chemistry between Kingsley and Peck that really drives the movie. There is an intimacy in both of them that only reveals itself when they are together on-screen. Both characters end up relatively heartbroken, nursing ebbing drug addictions, trying to figure out how to navigate the confusing hand they’ve been dealt.

Furthermore, Stephanie’s blasé treatment of Luke’s feelings is a refreshing departure from normative gender stereotypes. I’ve seen a ton of movies where the girl gets her heart broken by some nonchalant asshole, but in The Wackness we get the flipside. Stephanie also manages to remain somehow heroic despite the fact that she sleeps with Luke and then gets back together with her ex-boyfriend. Luke himself is tender and inspires a youthful sympathy, because really, we’ve all been there -- broken heart, ubiquitous love for weed, etc. (Okay maybe only I've been there?) His proclivity to ignore the “dopeness” of life, and instead relish in “the wackness,” is something I can truly relate to. At the end of the movie, Luke seems to have reconciled the glass half full/empty life views, and when Stephanie attempts to apologize for hurting him, he makes a very poignant statement along the lines of:

LUKE: Don’t apologize. I’ve never done this before. I want to remember what this is like.

STEPHANIE: What what is like?

LUKE: Having my heart broken.

In a moment of true cinematic gold, Luke steps into the elevator after this final exchange, a heavy angsty teenage heart bleating inside of him, and Stephanie cracks a wry smile because she can finally guiltlessly appreciate their romance for the subtle joke it was.

I think the movie will speak to a complex audience – teenagers, certainly; potheads, people who grew up in the 90’s, baby boomers suffering midlife crisis torment, Nas fans. (The soundtrack alone is almost worth paying the $12 to see the film for – the beginning of the 90’s hip hop movement plays a huge role in nudging along the plot).

But in the end it’s the fascinating relationship between therapist and drug dealing patient that sets this film apart from other angsty indie films; it’s an old cinematic fairy tale that both patient and therapist end up learning from each other, but the gracious way Peck and Kingsley navigate this relationship makes the film break through right into your chest and sit between those rib bones, much in the same way Stephanie breaks through to Luke: fleetingly, painfully, but in a conscious way that makes it all worthwhile.



Dan said...

Nice review! Never heard of this film but your review just convinced me to give it a watching, thanks!

Marshall said...

you know it's not even playing in DC yet, of course. Pretty sad how I'll be seeing this mainly for Kingsley.