The Wackness is a 2008 American coming-of-age drama film by Jonathan Levine and starring Josh Peck, Ben Kingsley, Mary-Kate Olsen, Famke Janssen, and Olivia Thirlby. The film is distributed by Sony Pictures Classics.
In New York City in 1994, Luke Shapiro (Josh Peck) is trading marijuana in exchange for therapy from his psychiatrist, Dr. Jeffery Squires (Ben Kingsley). Luke graduates from high school but while dealing at a party, he finds out that Justin (Aaron Yoo) and other people have gone away for the summer. Except him and his classmate, Stephanie (Olivia Thirlby), Dr. Squires' stepdaughter. When Luke returns home, he finds his parents arguing over money and their probable eviction.
Luke starts dealing more marijuana to make money for his family. After a session with Dr. Squires, he bumps into Steph and invites her to come with him dealing around the city. Steph has a great time and gives Luke her number so she will not be lonely in the city for the summer.
Luke phones Steph but ends up talking to Dr. Squires and they go out to a bar. Another client of Luke's shows up and while getting drunk and high, they get kicked out for underage drinking. Luke and Dr. Squires are walking from the bar and start tagging a wall but are apprehended by the police. Steph bails them out of jail and, against Dr. Squires' wishes, takes Luke out for the day. Luke and Steph end up kissing. When Luke gets home, he finds he has strong feelings for her.
Luke grabs a letter from his father and reads that his family is getting evicted. He tells his father to be a man and do something about it. Steph invites him to her family's house at Fire Island; Dr. Squires and his wife are going to try to fix their relationship on a second honeymoon. At the island, Steph finds out Luke is a virgin and offers to give him sex lessons. After taking a shower and having sex together, Luke tells Steph that he loves her. She reacts with astonishment and it's obvious (to the viewer, although not to Luke) that she's not looking for that kind of relationship with him. Justin later contacts Steph asking if she wants to hang out.
Luke asks Dr. Squires for help selling pot because he needs to make enough money for college. Luke introduces Dr. Squires to his client, Eleanor (Jane Adams), and they hit it off. Luke's family gets evicted and is forced to stay in a hotel. Luke visits Steph for companionship, but she greets him at the door with Justin and his heart is broken.
Luke goes to Fire Island to seek counseling with Dr. Squires. Dr. Squires is on a bender because of his now inevitable divorce and invites Luke to join him. While high, Dr. Squires starts to walk into the ocean to kill himself. Luke goes in after him to save him. They both end up back on the beach, alive, more sober, and cracking jokes.
Luke later talks with Dr. Squires inside the Squires' home. Luke tells him that he will be moving to New Jersey to live with his grandparents. Squires wishes him good luck and tells him goodbye. As Luke is leaving, Steph follows him to the elevator to talk to him. However, Luke says "Do me a favor Steph, don't say anything; I wanna remember this; I've never done it before." Stephanie replies "Never done what?" and Luke continues, "had my heart broken" and as he is on the verge of tears he goes into the elevator and Stephanie looks sad for a moment, before smiling and seeming to realize Luke will be fine. As Luke walks out of the complex, he puts in the mixtape Squires made for him and All the Young Dudes by David Bowie begins playing. Luke is amused by it.
In New Jersey, Luke tells his family he plans to become a psychiatrist. He says that he will be good at it because "everyone around me is so fucking crazy." Back in the city, Eleanor beeps Dr. Squires and asks him what he's doing tonight. He says "No plans." It then goes to Luke who is smoking a joint while waiting at a train stop. He flicks the joint at the camera and the movie cuts to black as the credits roll.
- Ben Kingsley as Dr. Jeffrey Squires
- Josh Peck as Luke Shapiro
- Famke Janssen as Kristin Squires
- Olivia Thirlby as Stephanie Squires
- Mary-Kate Olsen as Union
- Method Man as Percy
- David Wohl as Father Shapiro
- Jane Adams as Eleanor
- Talia Balsam as Mother Shapiro
- Aaron Yoo as Justin
Filming wrapped up on August 24, 2007. The Wackness was awarded the Audience Award for Dramatic Film at the 2008 Sundance Film Festival.
Jonathan Levine claims the movie is semi-autobiographical. "'I wish I could say that I sold pot and I had a shrink like Ben Kingsley, but no, it wasn't like that,' admits Jonathan Levine . . . 'It's the details and the backdrop, and a lot of the perspective of this kid and the way that he looks at the world,' explains Levine . . . .'The Stephanie character, I guess, is a composite of a few different ladies who broke up with me,' Levine says with a laugh. 'That happened.'"
The film garnered positive reviews from critics, with Rotten Tomatoes giving it a 69% rating based on 125 reviews, the site's consensus reading, "Sympathetic characters and a clever script help The Wackness overcome a familiar plot to make for a charming coming-of-age comedy." Ben Kingsley's performance, however, earned him a Razzie Award nomination for Worst Supporting Actor (also for The Love Guru and War, Inc.).
According to a review in The Dallas Morning News:
"Beyond what worked tonewise, a lot of the music speaks to what's going on in the movie," Mr. Levine said during a visit to Dallas last month. "There's that 'Heaven & Hell' song by Raekwon when Josh is up on a water tower looking down, and it's asking, 'Is high school heaven or is it hell?' And 'Can I Kick It?' by A Tribe Called Quest plays when Kingsley's trying to kick drugs. So a lot of it just kind of worked thematically."
Mr. Levine targeted the most iconic acts of the era, with Notorious B.I.G. on the top of his list. Luke and Stephanie bond in Central Park over beer and the sounds of Total Featuring the Notorious B.I.G.'s classic single "Can't You See". "The What," a song from that album featuring Wu-Tang Clan member Method Man, who also appears in the film as Luke's supplier, leads off the soundtrack... Mr. Levine says he considered expanding the film's sonic landscape to include Weezer and Smashing Pumpkins, two of the year's biggest non-hip-hop acts, and that the original ending featured Nirvana's Lithium."
From Levine: "Ultimately, tough choices refined the film's reach, which isn't such a bad thing. But that doesn't mean it was easy passing that other music up."
The soundtrack from the Sundance submission edit of the movie differs from the final edit, with several tracks either being shifted, replaced, or cut out of some scenes possibly due to issues of licensing.
- "The What?" -- The Notorious B.I.G. feat. Method Man
- "You Used To Love Me" -- Faith Evans
- "Flava in Ya Ear" -- Craig Mack
- "Summertime" -- DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince
- "Can't You See" -- Total feat. The Notorious B.I.G.
- "I Can't Wake Up" -- KRS-One
- "The World Is Yours" -- Nas
- "Can I Kick It?" -- A Tribe Called Quest
- "Heaven & Hell" -- Raekwon
- "Bump n' Grind" -- R. Kelly
- "Just a Friend" -- Biz Markie
- "Tearz" -- Wu-Tang Clan
- "Long Shot Kick De Bucket" -- The Pioneers
- "All The Young Dudes" -- Mott the Hoople
The Wackness was released January 6, 2009 on DVD and Blu-ray.
Revolver Books published a novelization of the film, written by Dale C. Phillips.
- Official website
- The Wackness at the Internet Movie Database
- The Wackness at AllMovie
- The Wackness at Box Office Mojo
- The Wackness at Rotten Tomatoes
- Interview with director Jonathan Levine and star Josh Peck at IFC.com