Wednesday, January 7, 2009

DJG / The Wackness

The Wackness * * *
Directed by: Jonathan Levine / 2008

It's a summer heat wave in 1994 Manhattan. Mix tapes are blastin' the breaking beats of A Tribe Called Quest and newcomer Notorious B.I.G. Graffiti mural tributes to Kurt Cobain are still fresh on the walls. Mayor Rudy Giuliani is cleaning up the storefront prostitution, pornography and drug dealing. Though, he forgot to have his cronies check out a banged-up flavored ices cart missing letter labeled "F ESH & DEL CIOUS", employed by recent high school graduate Luke Shapiro (played well by Josh Peck). He’s not a bad kid, just a little misguided, and mostly on the prowl for one last great New York summer before college and life starts aging. Oh, and Luke wants to spend his last great summer (or at least a weekend) with the girl of his dreams. Instead he spends most of his summer with her step-father.

The treats in the cart aren't for everyone, but given the circumstances, it's better summer profit than selling treats to cool down. Besides, the dough might be needed to keep Luke’s family from being evicted. Even though he’s playing with potential fire, you kinda feel for the kid and want to see him succeed and help see that he gets through his summer of restlessness. For some people Luke’s treats are used to cool down with. In particular, his psychiatrist Dr. Squires (fantastic choice for Ben Kingsley), whom he trades dope for therapy. Quite a deal, like a trick-or-treat, as both have a high street value. But, it's the value of their relationship that is worth more by summer's end. It’s an interesting match to light, an eighteen year-old kid who doesn’t realize he’s on the cusp of life and an aging has-been who wishes to re-hash his glory days.

Normally, I'd be very frustrated with a movie like "The Wackness", and after forty minutes into it, I didn't know if I wanted to keep it on or keep groaning at the characters instead of watching them grow. However, I try to finish movies in hopes for on-screen redemption and development and I think it paid off. "The Wackness" is fresh and delicious at times, even when it seems to be muddling over with the saturated indie cliché market. It’s not perfect, and there are some things that don’t quite do it for me (to mention, a hippy Mary-Kate Olsen…she is still little Michelle Tanner to me!), but something in the lives on screen had me listening and keeping tabs and they felt like they had strings running to reality in some aspects.

As the heat waves are traded for crashing ones on the beach at summer's end, something valuable is found and to be cliché, a changing of the tides roared in. I'm thinking these characters are still breathing…still developing...still unfolding. They’re still out there slicing their own waves and turning tricks and treats in a present New York City aged fourteen years with them.


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