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United States, 2008
Directed By: Jonathan Levine
Written By: Jonathan Levine
Starring: Josh Peck, Ben Kingsley, Olivia Thirlby, Mary-Kate Olsen
Running Time: 95 minutes
Rated R for pervasive drug use, language and some sexuality
This review was originally published August 12th, 2008.
Two days after seeing The Wackness, I’m still trying to figure out what I disliked so much about it. Some suggestions…
- The fact that I’ve already seen the whole premise — drug dealing high school kid falls for the daughter of an authority figure who has more than his own share of vices and addictions — played out this year in the far-superior Charlie Bartlett, which managed to be a lot more fun, meaningful (even if a bit overly-earnest), and genuinely honest, despite an almost total lack of “indie cred”;
- The fact that it’s still too soon, guys (!!!), for 90’s nostalgia, and even if Definitely, Maybe managed to pull it off without completely embarrassing itself, that doesn’t mean we have to beat this thing to death (sorry guys, but seeing someone blow on an NES cartridge doesn’t take me to transcendent heights, especially considering I still have an NES that gets a fair amount of use);
- The fact that it’s relentlessly whiny about Rudy Giuliani’s work as mayor of NYC, and “coincidentally” was designed to be released the year that ol’ Rudy had a (now immaterialized) shot at running for president (come on, guys, I’m more than aware of the weaknesses of his zero-tolerance policies, but is it too much to ask that your political views have some nuance? or at least some subtlety?);
- The fact that I’m supposed to feel bad about the fact that Rudy was lowering the boom on people whose entire lives consisted of doing drugs, defacing public property, masturbating, trying to get laid, and masturbating some more;
- The fact that this is supposed to be a coming-of-age story but that no one ever really comes of age, and in fact many of the characters seem far less mature at the end (apparently, in the world of director Jonathan Levine, maturity consists of learning that both suicide and coitus are rarely ever worth the effort);
- The fact that whenever any member of the cast was on screen, all I could do was wish they would be off soon (when the choice is between a whiny teen with no friends who thinks his life is somehow profound and his greasy middle-aged psychiatrist who wants nothing more than to cheat on his wife with teenaged girls, it’s kind of a toss-up);
- The fact that the only exception to this was Mary-freaking-Kate Olsen, whom I’m supposed to hate, but here frustratingly proves that she is, in fact, a talented actress (and, in another stunning display of ineptitude, is given almost no screen time by the ever-navel-gazing writer/director Levine);
- The fact that Ben Kingsley, who once won an Oscar for his portrayal of Mohandas-freaking-Gandhi, has chosen to spend this summer first desecrating Hinduism in The Love Guru, and then playing one of the most weasely, obnoxious screen characters in recent memory (the aforementioned psychiatrist);
- The fact that, for all its brooding, this film has absolutely nothing on its mind (aside from the aforementioned lessons about suicide and sex), and is sophomoric at best-or simply amateur, at worst;
- The fact that I’m supposed to like this drivel because it’s an independent (!!!) film and Levine used some fancy filters on his camera, and the fact that someone is bound to tell me I “just didn’t get it,” presumably in an attempt to make themselves sound smarter than me, which shouldn’t bug me, but does; and finally,
- The fact that it actually received an award at Sundance and was picked up by Sony for distribution — further proof that I “just didn’t get it,” and will likely get berated by anyone who reads this review.
Really though, I have no excuse except the fact that this just isn’t a very good film. All I can say is that those who are cheering for it must be blinded by the fact that the soundtrack features a lot of songs that they haven’t heard in ten years or so. Aside from that, the only reason to see it is if you’re into narcissism that pretends to be life-affirming. And if you’re not, feel free to skip this one.