The Wackness

Year: 2009
Production Co: Occupant Films
Director: Jonathan Levine
Writer: Jonathan Levine
Cast: Ben Kingsley, Josh Peck, Olivia Thirlby, Famke Janssen, Mary-Kate Olsen
If you've seen Little Miss Sunshine, Running With Scissors and any number of other quirky dramedy films you'll sense them all starting to feel familiar without knowing why after awhile.

You'll be right - many of the films in the class of The Wackness mark the distinctive stamp of Sundance. Like them, it ticks all the boxes - a miniscule budget of only a few million, at least one big-name actor playing against type for indie cred (Ben Kingsley), the trappings, fashions, music and lifestyle of a distinctive period (Brooklyn of the mid 90s with hip hop sweeping the streets) and a lot of little guy, dirty-dishwater struggle and a quirky storyline.

It's the perfect recipe for the sort of film a microstudio has no money to promote but which they hope will generate enough word of mouth and kudos come awards night it'll clean up.

For all its charm The Wackness has little new to offer. Kinglsey is the dope-smoking psychiatrist having a midlife crisis which is a pleasure to watch, but litle else stands out. Josh Peck is a drug dealer struggling with adulthood and love as he prepares to go off to college, spending his last summer in New York saving up the proceeds from his one man dope operation.

Even a clever script and casting can't hide the well-worn coming-of-age story as Luke's psychiatrist (Kingsley) offers him potted therapy even though royally screwed up himself, accepting dope as payment.

When Luke crosses paths with his doctor's free-spirited stepdaughter (Olivia Thirlby from 2008 hit Juno, in another indie pedigree), he's torn between his strange mentor and falling in love. At least one will end badly, but it's less about the story than it is about quirky characters. As he was in Sexy Beast Kingsley is a pleasure to watch, but he's not on screen enough and those who are end up just more bland teenagers trying to be tough and cool.

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