Previously, I'd mostly known The Wackness as that weird-looking Sundance movie in which an Olsen twin makes out with Ben Kingsley and which features a ton of pot smoking. While those things are true, I also gotta say I really liked this weirdo pot-smoking movie. I can easily see why The Wackness won the audience award at Sundance this year: it's funny, it's got that tender boy-grows-up storyline, and there's plenty of sex, drugs and a ridiculously awesome, rap-heavy soundtrack.
Also, it's got Josh Peck, Olivia Thirlby and Ben Kingsley at the heart of it, which is what ended up endearing this movie to me most of all. Peck plays Luke Shapiro, a kid on the Upper East Side who deals pot and feels alone amongst his classmates. He lives with parents who fight about money nonstop and he sees a therapist, Dr. Squires (Kingsley) in exchange for weed. Luke soon graduates high school and starts another summer of peddling his goods from out of an ices cart. He befriends his therapist's stepdaughter Stephanie (Thirlby) and then quickly falls in love with her. That's not all, though, so read more.
Discovering that his family might be getting evicted, Luke solicits Dr. Squires' help with his business, gaining a higher-end clientele so he can more quickly earn cash. Luke and Dr. Squires become close friends just as Squires feels more and more estranged from his wife. Meanwhile, Stephanie's commitment issues start to worry Luke, as she's the first girl he's ever truly loved. Mary-Kate Olsen's part is minimal at best. She plays a trippy flower child who buys from Luke and, well, makes out with Dr. Squires.
Screening this movie at Tribeca was the perfect move, and not just because the script includes countless quips about Mayor Giuliani. It's shot with a great affection for New York, framing many of the scenes in parks or on rooftops, relying on the soft sunlight to imbue a kind of hominess and comfort to this city that never sleeps. It isn't the glamorous, impossibly clean New York of mindless romcoms, it's the hometown to these kids who have grown up on the Upper East Side but still try to talk like gangsters. They've got money to burn and they burn it on pot, rather than fashion. Sometimes the pot theme lends a sleepy quality to it all, though there are also little dreamlike fantasy interludes in which we catch a glimpse inside Luke's imagination and rather than being ridiculous, it's actually adorably endearing. I guess that's the bottom line here: I thought this movie would be ridiculous and instead it wormed its way into my heart.
Photos courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics