“Never trust anyone who doesn’t smoke pot and doesn’t like Bob Dylan,” Luke’s psychiatrist counsels him – redundantly on one score, since Luke is paying for his sessions with weed.
Can this long-haired, goateed, be-hatted bong-sucking, superannuated hippie really be Sir Ben Kingsley? You better believe it. Sir Ben reportedly took bong lessons in preparation for playing Dr Squires, and he sets to it with a will that threatens to overpower this stylish but dangerously flimsy coming of age story, a semi-autobiographical piece from writer-director Jonathan Levine (All The Boys Love Mandy Lane).
Josh Peck (Drillbit Taylor) is Luke, a middle class New Yorker with college expectations, few friends, and no sexual experience. Squires tells him to get laid, in so many words, but becomes alarmed when he realises Luke is sweet on his step-daughter, Stephanie (Olivia Thirby).
If Luke has some problems, they’re nothing compared to his therapist’s. Dr Squires’ marriage to Kristin (a breathtakingly cold Famke Janssen) is on the rocks, and he’s got a serious chemical dependency problem. He hooks on to Luke like he’s his last chance – in one funny sequence they go out on the town together, and the Doc ends up swapping spit with one of the teenage girls he’s supposed to be setting up for his patient (in a bizarre piece of celebrity casting, the girl is played by Mary-Kate Olsen).
Most of this is fun to watch, and especially Kingsley, who gets the lion’s share of the script’s zingers. I don’t think we really believe in the buddy-buddy relationship between this gone-to-seed hipster and his overly serious teenage dealer, not for a New York minute, but their contrasting and complimentary perspectives on life give the film some heart.
Levine is a better director than he is a writer. The movie is set in the sweltering summer of 1994, when Mayor Rudy Giuliani was earning his spurs cleaning up the streets, and the period detail is evocative and authentic without making a gimmick of it. Levine wisely loads the soundtrack with classic hip hop tracks from The Notorious BIG, A Tribe Called Quest and The Wu-Tang Clan (Method Man also appears in a small role), and Luke swaps mix tapes with the Doc (who prefers Mott The Hoople and David Bowie).
A romantic interlude on Fire Island is handled with real delicacy – Peck and Thirby obviously got it – but the crisis that follows is every bit as phony as this sequence rings true.
As for the wisdom of calling your movie “The Wackness”, it seems like it’s asking for trouble, like calling it “The Shit”, only you know, the opposite. I wonder what His Bobness would make of it all.Tom Charity
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