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January 27, 2009
Review - " The Wackness " (on DVD) - By Roland Hansen
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Olivia Thirlby in bikini
The Wackness movie poster
Josh Peck and Olivia Thirlby
"The Wackness"
Director: Jonathan Levine
Cast: Josh Peck, Olivia Thirlby, Ben Kingsley, Aaron Yoo,
Famke Janssen, Jane Adams, Mary-Kate Olsen

I've never been a big fan of "stoner" comedies and it's hard to
route for a hero who is, when you come right down to it, a drug
dealer. But Josh Peck brings a likability to his character that's
hard to resist. Josh portrays him as not so much of a pusher
as a decent human being who just happens to make a living
selling pot.

Set in 1994 New York, this mixes the genres of coming-of-age
drama and stoner movie to great, if subdued, effect. Josh
Peck plays a busy pot dealer whose friendship with
screwed-up psychiatrist Dr Squires (Ben Kingsley) provides
the only working relationship in either of their lives.

Luke has no friends, no sex life and no idea, but you get the
hint that there's an ambitious nice guy buried under all his
white boy, hip-hop front. Kingsley is also great value. Trapped
in a loveless marriage and a meaningless career, he embarks
on a cross between a midlife crisis and a full-blown mental
breakdown. He accepts payment in drugs and even attempts
to get it on with burned out hippy-chick Mary-Kate Olsen. This
isn't a great film, but it is a good one. It's fun to watch, with
uniformly excellent performances. Olivia Thirlby is one to
watch as the object of Peck's fumbling lust.
Luke (Josh Peck), a likeable guy and thereby lies the root of his problem. He’s got a heart and one that hasn’t been
hardened enough to the world around him. It’s an oddly persistent sort of innocence considering that world. He’s just
graduating from high school and, unlike his father in more conventional business, Luke is a successful entrepreneur with a
tidy bankroll from dealing drugs from an Italian ice cart to a relatively harmless cross-section of upper-middle class. It’s the
likeable part that makes his rounds so successful, and his dealings with his supplier so smooth, despite the latter’s armed
posse ready to wreak mayhem at the first wrong move and/or word. It’s the likeable part, though, that is the seemingly
insurmountable stumbling block that’s also keeps him from the only thing that matters to him, which would be getting in with
the cool kids at school, who buy from him while merciless belittling him, particularly the fetching Stephanie (Olivia Thirlby),
whose perceived perfection symbolizes all that Luke wants out of life. When the cool kids take off for the summer leaving
Stephanie lonely and bored, he makes his move, leading to a world of education for both himself and Squires.
The performances are all
very solid, and the rolling
back of the calendars a
decade-and-a-half is done
quite well. "The Wackness"
knows itself and the world it
inhabits very well, and it
gives us characters worth
watching as much for their
redeeming qualities as for
their faults. Peck, with his
muffin face and puppy dog
eyes, he is sobering mixture
of maturity and innocence.
He deftly has Luke negotiate
the inherent embarrassment
of first love with a more
experienced woman, and the
effortless bravado of a
working relationship with a
thug in the original gangsta
mold. In doing so he gets to
the essence of Luke’s real
tragedy, which is that he
doesn’t realize that he is the
best man in his circle, and
cooler in all the ways that
really count. Thirlby does the bored and vulnerable bit with a nice raspy edge. Janssen, in a less showy part, is pungent
asSquires’ icy wife, oozing a contempt for her meal ticket, as though he is barely worth the effort to notice, much lessactively

"The Wackness" is invigorated by a savvy script that is equal parts comedy and tragedy, both arising from the same
seemingly bottomless wellspring of adolescent hormones and hair-trigger emotions. It’s a reminder of why coming-of-age
stories, when done right, are a staple of art, and why reliving the painful awkwardness of it all can be both cathartic and