Review: A taste of modern immaturity

Whether due to a fluke or a flair on the part of its creator, “The Wackness” is a surprisingly enjoyable comedy from the generally rusty spout devoted to the coming-of-age story. There is little that is extraordinary in this boy-meets-world indie, but the film combines and seasons its stock ingredients winningly.

Writer-director Jonathan Levine (“All the Boys Love Mandy Lane”) presents teen-angst, first-love, dubious-mentor and buddy-misadventure components in this sophomore feature, which has a hip-hop look and soundtrack.

The setting is 1994 New York. Pagers beep, Tupac’s alive and Rudy Giuliani’s cleanup crusade is happening.

Everything from loud radios to graffiti is targeted.

College-bound, dazed-looking Luke (Josh Peck) lives with his cash-strapped parents, whose bickering he escapes by immersing himself in hip-hop and selling marijuana. Luke trades pot for psychotherapy sessions with zonked-out, long-haired Dr. Squires (Ben Kingsley).

Squires lives out his dreams through Luke and takes him on a bar crawl filled with sex, substance and other opportunities likely to rankle Giuliani’s team.

Luke also falls for Squires’ stepdaughter, Stephanie (Olivia Thirlby), a teen hedonist who explains the film’s title. She’s the “dopeness” and he’s the “wackness,” she tells Luke, describing her positivism and his depressive nature.

That’s about as deep as things get in this movie, which suffers from Levine’s tendency to get overcool or show-offy. There’s nothing wrong with the hip-hop dialogue, jazzy visuals, abundant period detail or even Mary-Kate Olsen as a neo-hippie who makes out with Squires. But these factors upstage Levine’s smarter and convincingly human elements.

Fortunately, though, enough worthy material exists to enable the film to succeed as a vital, funny look at connective spark and at the people who enrich and nick our formative psyches. Sparkling intimate moments, including a heartbreak scene, highlight the space between the predictable dots.

The casting ranges from solid to either lucky or inspired. Peck conveys essential unease beneath his low-key exterior.

Kingsley, rivaling Christopher Walken for ubiquitousness, demonstrates that a good actor when miscast can be more riveting than a shallow thespian in a dream role. While not really believable as a New York-accented disgrace to his shingle, Kingsley’s a supremely original, colorful, off-kilter presence.

The women, who include Famke Janssen as Squires’ unhappy wife, have less to do. Thirlby, with the best-developed material, fares brightest. Jane Adams appears briefly as a drug customer who, like the guys, reflects Levine’s penchant for lost souls.

CREDITS

The Wackness

3 stars

Starring: Josh Peck, Ben Kingsley, Olivia Thirlby, Famke Janssen

Written and directed by: Jonathan Levine

Rated: R

Running time: 1 hour 35 minutes

artsentertainmentOther Arts

If you find our journalism valuable and relevant, please consider joining our Examiner membership program.
Find out more at www.sfexaminer.com/join/

Just Posted

San Francisco Police Chief Bill Scott listens at a rally to commemorate the life of George Floyd and others killed by police outside City Hall on Monday, June 1, 2020. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
Will the Biden Administration help SF speed up police reform?

City has struggled to implement changes without federal oversight

Lowell High School (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
Students, families call for culture shift at Lowell after racist incident

District to explore changes including possible revision of admissions policy

Alan Wong was among California National Guard members deployed to Sacramento to provide security the weekend before the presidential inauguration. (Courtesy photo)
CCSF board member tests positive for COVID-19 after National Guard deployment

Alan Wong spent eight days in Sacramento protecting State Capitol before Inauguration Day

Due to a lack of votes in his favor, record-holding former Giant Barry Bonds (pictured at tribute to Willie McCovey in 2018) will not be entering the National Baseball Hall of Fame in the near future.<ins> (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)</ins>
Ex-Giants star Barry Bonds again falls short of Hall of Fame

After striking out yet again in his bid to join Major League… Continue reading

San Francisco firefighter Keith Baraka has filed suit against The City alleging discrimination on the basis of race and sexual orientation.<ins></ins>
Gay black firefighter sues city for discrimination

A San Francisco firefighter who says he was harassed and discriminated against… Continue reading

Most Read