It's 1994 in New York City where controversial methods are being used to combat crime and homelessness. A disillusioned high schooler considers himself semi-suicidal, while a doctor and is rehab-addicted wife can't stand one another. The doctor helps the kid out but finds the latter's attentions turning to his step-daughter, which causes further turmoil.
You know that feeling when you’re the only person at a party who isn’t wasted on weed and everyone seems to be in on a joke or in a deep conversation but you’re not – and there’s still a good hour before you can leave? That’s what watching The Wackness is like.
Like that party, it has some fun moments. As the perpetually-bombed psychologist struggling with his aging, Ben Kingsley speaks the wisdom of a stoner with a doctorate and pulls off a very funny love scene – a hilarious encounter in a diner’s phone booth with the equally out-of-it Mary-Kate Olsen. Leading man Josh Peck (his maudlin-hangdog-teenager act a long way from the hyper-persona he projects on Nickelodeon’s hit tween series, Drake & Josh), is the centre of the movie and makes a pleasant enough companion for most of the film’s journey. Their warped-relationship provides the film’s best moments.
But, despite the gimmick of referencing all the key New York moments of its 1994 setting, this is another teen comedy about a loser who can’t get laid, blows it (early) when he snags the girl of his dreams (a thoroughly unlikable Olivia Thirlby, taking a big backwards step post-Juno) and realises happiness is not all it’s cracked up to be. American Graffitti (1973) did it better; so did Risky Business (1983) and, quite frankly, American Pie (1999).
Director Joseph Levine’s debut feature, the under-rated thriller All The Boys Love Mandy Lane (2006), utilised his flair for sepia-toned style and characterisations a whole lot better than The Wackness. In trying to find a unique point-of-view with his first non-genre feature, he flounders for anything original to say.
Worst of all, it’s a dour film. Like watching Ben Kingsley take a huge pull from a monster-bong, The Wackness seems pretty cool at first, but, as the thrill of that first hit wears off, becomes tiresome and sad.