Reel Society

Reviews for the latest movies in theaters and on DVD.

The Wackness

Review by Paul Edwards 
If there is anything The Wackness does well, it is destroying the typecast that some actors might have or could have faced in their careers. A great example of this was the casting of Mary-Kate Olsen as a long lost hippie girl who was born in the wrong era. Suffice it to say, I have actually met a chick like that. I guess that’s why I found it so relatable, despite its issues. The characters didn’t talk to each other like they were Harvard law students; no, they used lingo that was “straight dope”, if you get my drift. Think of Juno without Diablo Cody’s pop-culture references, and add in hip-hop slang with a dash of nostalgia. Or, if you prefer, think of Superbad with less swearing but more drugs and family issues.
The trailer does a good job showing off some of the gimmick of the movie, the nostalgia factor, the dreams of adolescence, but the movie itself is more focused on the storytelling  than the gimmick. What is this story I keep alluding to? This story is one of loneliness and redemption, a story about experiencing new things and losing out on life. That’s what makes this movie so good. One would think being a drug dealer is a glamorous lifestyle from music videos but there are always stories, failures left untold.
Now, just like Juno, the concept might seem a bit depressing, but in fact, there are plenty of light moments. These moments are so natural and un-polished, it’s as if we were watching the documentary American Teen. The hit that misses, the practicing of lines, the uncalled for mistakes of life, are all there. They are there to teach us that life is painful but we can get through it. I must admit, this movie is set in three acts, and not all of them are created equal.
I earlier hinted at some issues I had with the film. Well, Method Man was one of them. He is in only three scenes but all of them are mind-numbingly painful. Whoever thought this guy could pass off an accent was sorely mistaken. Another issue I had was the film was a little too laid-back for all the issues the characters were having. Maybe it was the weed, but there was an air of calm when there were dire circumstances facing the characters. I think I’ll leave the rest up to you to find out. This is a very good film and I would give it a solid recommendation if you are in the mood for something a little off the beaten path (well, more than a little, actually). 
4/5 stars
Review by Matthew Frendo
I want to start by saying that this is my favorite of all the movies I have seen so far this year.  I loved The Dark Knight and don't know anyone who didn't, as it's a near perfect action/crime movie with great performances and killer cinematography.  You will not, however, find any search for the reality of life, unless, of course, you wear a leather batsuit and sit in the dark (which is actually how my Saturday nights have tended to go as of late…damn
The Wackness is set in 1994, and follows Luke Shapiro (Josh Peck), a low level pot dealer, during his first summer after graduating high school.  Even being a dealer, he has very few friends, and ends up trading psychologist Dr. Squires (played by the near-always transcendent Ben Kingsley) pot for therapy sessions.  They develop a close friendship, while Luke, at the same time, falls for Kingsley's step-daughter, Stephanie.  From there the relationships deepen, and the numbing madness of reality begins.
Having graduated in the mid-nineties myself, I was amazingly surprised at the most realistic depiction of the time period that I've seen set to film.  The soundtrack, subject matter, and dialogue (when discussing Luke's sadness, Squires asks "Is it Kurt Cobain?") all mesh together perfectly in the script penned by Josh Levine, who also helmed the director's chair.  With the exception of living on the west coast instead of the east (we played more Tupac than Biggie here), I felt like I was back in the given time period.
The respective acting chops of Josh Peck and Ben Kingsley are at the top of their game here, as both give multi-layered performances of characters trying to embrace, or at least make it through, the pain of life and love.  The real surprise though, is Olivia Thirby (known best for the role of Leah in Juno), in her portrayal of Stephanie, Kingsley's step-daughter and Peck's love interest.  Besides being downright gorgeous, she gives a commanding performance of a teenage girl straddling the line between easy shallowness and the depths of pain.  She is the cool in the movie, and makes eyes transfix to the screen with the greatest of ease.  She is one to look out for (and with six movies either completed or in post-production, my guess is you won't have much choice in the matter…).
With a soundtrack so killer as to make me rush out to the store to purchase it directly after the movie, dialogue written to contain both funny and saddening moments, and top notch performances, The Wackness is the can't miss movie of the summer.  Unfortunately, most people out there won't see it.
5/5 stars

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