The Wackness
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Ever since film festival favorites like Little Miss Sunshine and Juno started hitting theaters and winning over a mainstream audience, smart indie films have been all the rage. But Juno fans who head out to see this year’s Sundance sweetheart, The Wackness might not get what they’re expecting.

The Wackness tells the story of recent high school grad, Luke Shapiro (Josh Peck)—a loner who’s trying to earn his college tuition by selling drugs out of an ice cream cart on the streets of New York City. Like any kid—especially those who, like Luke, came of age during the angst-fueled ‘90s—Luke has a pretty grim outlook on life. He locks himself in his room to avoid his arguing parents. He doesn’t really have any friends. And he wouldn’t know how to talk to a girl if she weren’t stoned.

The only person Luke can really talk to is his client, Dr. Squires (Ben Kingsley), a depressed shrink with a distant wife (Famke Janssen) and a gorgeous step-daughter, Stephanie (Olivia Thirlby). Luke begins trading drugs for therapy sessions, and the two begin to form an unlikely friendship—mostly because they’re both depressed and alone.

Unlike many other popular indies that have made their way to theaters in the last couple of years, The Wackness isn’t really a movie that you’ll remember for its wry wit. Sure, it has its share of amusing moments, but, for the most part, it’s a pretty grim movie. Even the cryptic title (which comes from a quote from Stephanie, who explains to Luke, “I see the dopeness in everything, and you just see the wackness.”) points to the story’s heavy subject matter. At times, in fact, it almost feels oppressive—thanks to its despondent characters, who spend most of the movie languishing away in the heat of summer in the Big Apple.

Still, there’s a lesson or two to be learned from The Wackness. It’s a smart and thoughtful film about living life—and dealing with the ups and downs that come your way. It’s also a captivating study of two characters who are much more alike than they realize. And while the pace is rather unhurried, the solid performances by both lead actors will easily hold your attention.

Former Disney Channel star Peck is strangely sweet and naďve as Luke—and, despite his character’s chosen profession, you can’t help but care about this lovable loner. Kingsley, meanwhile, brings in the most laughs as the quirky “weird old guy,” yet his performance is perfectly understated—and even believable. Together (and with some help from Thirlby), they make The Wackness a charmingly eccentric film.

Due, in part, to its dark subject matter, The Wackness probably won’t have the same mainstream appeal as fun, quirky indies like Juno and Little Miss Sunshine. But as long as you don’t go into the theater expecting a witty comedy, you’ll be able to see the dopeness in The Wackness.

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