The Wackness (2008)
Without being able to boast the purest intentions, The Wackness comes off as a film with a little too many of the typical, clichéd indie traits, without having the substance to back them up. Ben Kingsley's name on the cast list cannot conceal Jonathan Levine's desperate desire to create cool, philosophically relevant nostalgia. Unfortunately, it becomes evident that the so-called 'wackness' isn't necessarily cool, that the conversations between Dr. Squires and Luke are quasi-philosophical, and that the nostalgia feels forced and, to be honest, a little too soon.
Although I was about Luke's age back in 1994, and thus smiled recognisably at the mix tapes, the Kurt Cobain worship and the great haircuts, I didn't catch myself smiling as much at the film's somewhat tacky relating to the hip hop culture. There is but one black character in the film (the chief drug dealer, not surprisingly), and the way Levine presents his cultural crossovers leaves a vapid aftertaste.
Now, Ben Kingsley looks good and Josh Peck (a grown version of that kid from Mean Creek) may or may not be a talented actor. Judging from his exceedingly underplayed performance here, I really couldn't tell. He should have borrowed some of Kingsley's zest, which is a bit too much. Kingsley is fun, but he doesn't treat the material seriously. Perhaps he wasn't supposed to - it is hard to tell based on Levine's wavering direction. He tries to combine heavy drama (Luke's domestic situation and depression) with a profound romance (the Stephanie subplot) and some wacky (sic) and inspirational comedy (the Dr. Squires relation). Although he succeeds in bits and pieces with all three, the combination doesn't work, and the script is too lightweight and insignificant to justify the pretentious finale and Levine's indulgent, uncritical stance towards his characters and their actions.