It's the summer of 1994, and the streets of New York are pulsing with hip-hop. Set against this backdrop, a lonely teenager named Luke Shapiro spends his last summer before university selling marijuana throughout New York City, trading it with his unorthodox psychotherapist for treatment, while having a crush on his stepdaughter.
Lifelong platonic friends Zack and Miri look to solve their respective cash-flow problems by making an adult film together. As the cameras roll, however, the duo begin to sense that they may have more feelings for each other than they previously thought.
A couple who is expecting their first child travel around the U.S. in order to find a perfect place to start their family. Along the way, they have misadventures and find fresh connections with an assortment of relatives and old friends who just might help them discover "home" on their own terms for the first time.
Friendship, love, and coming of age in New York City, summer of 1994. Luke Shapiro has just graduated from high school, sells marijuana, and trades pot for therapy from a psychologist, Dr. Jeffrey Squires. Luke is attracted to a classmate, Stephanie, who's out of his league and Squires' step-daughter. By July, he's hanging out with Stephanie, taking her on his rounds selling pot out of an ice-cream pushcart. Then things take a turn. In the background, Squires and his wife as well as Luke's parents are having their troubles. Written by
The hat that Ben Kingsley wears was his own. He grabbed it when he set off to New York to film the movie, thinking it might be useful. See more »
At the end, right after Luke comes out of Dr. Squires' building, when he loads the doc's mixtape into his walkman, he has an analogue watch on his wrist, but in the next scene when he puts up his headphones, he has a digital watch. See more »
A dopey Jewish boy pseudo gangsta with a nerdy sweet smile
The success of 'The Wackness' is fragile. If you can hear that phrase
right--the wackness, the movie will probably work for you. That's
enough: the wackness. It almost feels like writing about it will crush
it. Things don't seem to fly at first. Here we are. Okay, there's this
high-school graduate called Luke Shapiro (Josh Peck). He lives on the
Upper East Side of NYC but his father's had an economic disaster and
they're threatened with banishment to New Jersey. The older
generation's approaching meltdown and the youngsters are about to move
Much about 'The Wackness' sounds routine. The coming-of-age story, the
nerdy kid who wins over the cute girl, the constantly feuding parents,
the offbeat shrink sessions, the nostalgia for a period recently gone.
Why does it work? The simple answer: Josh Peck, who plays the young
man, Luke Shapiro. Peck, who's tall and a bit chubby (he was a flat-out
fat boy in Mean Creek and the TV kid comedy series "Drake & Josh"),
wonderfully steers along on the edge between nerdy and cool and the
result is irresistibly charming. However self-conscious Luke's lines
may be at times, Peck's timing and delivery turn them into gold. Luke's
relationship with the messed-up shrink Dr. Squires (Ben Kingsley), who
trades him therapy for good bud, is endearing too, but Squires is close
enough to being a real mess so it's not too cute.
It's the summer of 1994 in hiphop graffiti New York just at the moment
when Mayor Giuliani came to wipe out "quality of life crimes" and drain
the sleaze and the color out of Times Square. Probably the
writer-director (Jonathan Levine) was this age then. Words like "dope"
and "wack" and "yo" and "what up" fly through the air with abandon. The
movie pushes the same slang words too hard, and mentions Giuliani more
than it needs to. And what's with "mad"? Did they really say that?
"You're mad out of my league." "I got mad love for you shorty. I want
to listen to Boyz2men when I'm with you," says Luke to Stephanie
(Olivia Thrilby). (They trade mix tapes.) It's a heat wave, so he says
"It's mad hot." The dialog is mad free with "mad." Accurate or not, the
New York-Nineties references are a bit more constant and self-conscious
than they need to be.
At first some of the more prominently noticeable visual business also
seems over-the-top: a teenager selling masses of weed out of a decrepit
ice cream cart and trading it for therapy; the shrink's giant glass
bong which he lights up in his office during a session.
But, whatever, as the blasé Stephanie would say. It still works,
because the main characters are endearing and their dilemmas are true
The thing is, Luke needs to get laid. Squires offers a hooker, not
pills, for this issue. The doctor himself takes a kaleidoscope of
antidepressants to cope with being a mess and having a sexy young
wife (Famke Janssen) on the verge of leaving him. The solution of
Luke's problem turns out to be convoluted because Stephanie, who
accepts to hang out with him and then teaches him to make love, is
Squires' own step-daughter. That's tricky for Squires. He has problems
of his own. He has one big one: he's afraid life is passing him by. No
obvious role model though a pal to Luke, he's such a mess he lusts
after teenage girls himself, and smooches with Mary-Kate Olsen in a
phone booth. This, by the way, was the day when drug dealers still used
pagers and pay phones. And even if the Giuliani theme is pushed as are
the "what up's," nonetheless Squires' dishevelment and Luke's selling
drugs out of a cart are logical figments of the fading pre-Giuliani New
York, and that fading sleaze is like the fading of Luke's virginity as
his "nasty thoughts," which he says he enjoys, yield to real
experiences of sex and to the pain of falling in love when it's not
By now it may be redundant to say it, but Josh Peck makes Luke's
mixture of vulnerability and bravado, very real. The plot turns out to
be not so much clichéd as simple and true. When Luke's heart gets
broken, it really hurts to watch it. Though the drug distributors Luke
gets his marijuana from--and he sells many large bricks of it that
summer in hopes of saving his parents' apartment--are conventionally
high-powered guys with machine-guns and Jamaican accents, ninety
percent of the time Levine keeps his story low-keyed and doesn't strain
for effects. And he doesn't need those, because Josh Peck's and Ben
Kingsley's line readings sing out enough to make any movie memorable.
As one blogger puts it, Luke's "kind of dopey pseudo-gangsta, but
nerdishly sweet smile managed to convey both the character's pretense
and genuine good nature." All the English Peck puts on his lines
reflects his character's efforts to strike a pose, but the "nerdishly
sweet smile" instantly undercuts the poses and makes them endearing.
He's functional enough. Stephanie has taken some small interest in him,
enough to want to hang out despite her having been "mad out of my
league" in high school. And he must have got dealing dope down if he
can make $26,000 in some heavy weeks of the summer. But he's in need of
an attitude adjustment. This is how Stephanie puts it: "I see the
dopeness; you only see the wackness." He's been faking it and now he
needs to make it. He needs to love life. And suffer pain. And she gives
him both opportunities. This is pretty well how the world is for a
young dude. When it hurts to watch Luke suffer, it hurts in a good way.
P.s. Jane Adams is mad fly as Elanor, an ex-musician pothead. Her
ingenious excuses for constantly scoring weed are as good as anything
in David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest.
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