The Fast Forward Revue

Film Review: The Wackness by gaohippy
The Wackness, now playing in a limited run.

The Wackness, now playing in a limited run.


Fast Forward Rating: FFFFF (5 out of 5).


Whose world is this? The world is yours, the world is yours.The Wackness, directed by newcomer Jonathan Levine, opens to the tune of Nas’s track from Illmatic, one of the most celebrated hip hop records of all time. While this particular musical selection is sure to immediately win over some hip hop heads in the audience, it is the proceeding film that won me over. It takes place on the baking streets of Manhattan’s Upper East Side in the summer of 1994. Pun intended.

Luke Shapiro is our protagonist, a ganja-dealer fresh out of high school whose shrink brings him as much confusion as women do. Actually, his dream woman happens to be the shrink’s step-daughter, and while this provides a great scenario for mischief and mayhem to play out, the movie’s real strength is honest characterization. What I love about The Wackness so much is that it feels like a long therapy session in which I get to consider the meaning of love, friendship, sex, and most importantly: youth. The film’s flagship romance between Shapiro and “Steph”, played by Josh Peck (all grown up since Nickelodeon days) and Olivia Thirlby respectively, is painfully true to the spirit of young love, tainted with naivety, exhilaration, and anticipation.

Then there’s Luke’s relationship with Dr. Squires, played by Ben Kingsley, one of the greatest character actors of our time. The two have a complex relationship that is all at once doctor-patient, dealer-client, friend-friend, and mentor-disciple. At first, Luke thinks that his doctor is a washed-up weirdo with no friends, and Dr. Shapiro is indeed jealous that Luke has his entire life ahead of him. They learn valuable life lessons from each other and their friendship is the most meaningful relationship in a film full of marriages and flings, provoking the audience to ask the question of the true meaning of love, and the blinding nature of attraction in romantic relationships.

On top of the heavy core of the film, Levine really takes the film’s 1994 setting to heart, giving it an exquisite aged film look full of warm, earthy tones. Everything from the World Trade Center being in the skyline to the film’s tastefully incorporated graphics brings us back 14 years into the past, down to Luke’s Adidas sneaks that would make even run DMC proud. In fact, it is so genuine and spirited that I find myself lamenting the fact that I wasn’t a teenager in the ’90s. The soundtrack is loaded with tracks from Tribe, Biggie, KRS-One, and Wu-Tang, leaving me convinced that director Jonathan Levine knows his shit.

I won’t spoil any more, just go see the film next time you’re not busy selling marijuana or hitting a bong.