(image via Cinematical)
The Wackness is about a kid who has just finished high school and faces a compendium of problems: he has no friends, his family has financial problems, his parents are at each other’s throats and he’s a virgin. The unfortunate young man is played by Josh Peck who you might remember as the poster boy for everything Nickelodeon not so long ago (Metal Lungies and Nick are tight, we run ads on Nick Jr.). In a slight departure from his previous roles, Peck plays a weed dealer living in New York in the Summer of ’94.
The Wackness is a coming of age story steeped in the sociopolitical issues surrounding New York at the time and the legendary hip hop acts that were coming out. So, Giuliani was putting cats behind bars and tracks off Ready to Die were circulating on mixtapes. That’s right, it’s a hip hop movie. Admittedly, I have little interest in a coming of age story, but a hip hop movie that isn’t Step Up 2 the Streets piqued my interest.
The movie’s greatest strength is its characters, who are mostly very charming. The name that immediately jumped out at me was Method Man, who plays Luke’s Jamaican weed connect. Meth only plays a minor role, but his overblown accent is really funny. Mary-Kate Olsen plays a shrooms-taking bohemian. But Luke’s therapist, portrayed extra dopely by Ben Kingsley, really steals the show. A mix of wisdom and desperate vulnerability, his character is the anti-Giuliani and the source of the movie’s funniest moments, like hearing him quote Biggie, “Bitches I like ‘em brianless…”. And yes, Meth and Ben share a scene, which I hope has at least an hour of bloopers and alternate takes.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t as fond of the main characters. Peck overdoes the awkward teen thing and at times is more annoying than endearing. Luke’s love interest, played by Olivia Thirlby, jumps between coldhearted bitch and sympathetic friend too quickly and as a result, I feel like her character isn’t very solid.
My biggest problem with The Wackness is that it lacks subtlety. Rather than being a coming of age story with ’94 NY as a backdrop, it’s as if the movie stops every so often to show you Luke’s cassette player and remind you that it’s a hip hop movie. The soundtrack (Nas, The Notorious B.I.G., Wu-Tang Clan) is featured a little too prominently. The constant mention of mixtapes seems like an overemphasis to me, but that might just be because I came up on mp3s.
Despite my complaints, The Wackness is still an enjoyable movie that paints a vivid picture of an important time in New York. The story has a good mix of drama and humor, with characters that I found myself really wanting to hang out with. But, my favorite hip hop movie is still Juice; Bishop’s monologue is some hood Shakespeare shit. “You right, I am crazy. But you know what else?…”