Friday, September 19, 2008

The Wackness (Rhodes)

‘The Wackness’ Is Wacky High-School Nostalgia

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

One of my favorite books is “A Confederacy of Dunces,” the quixotic story of a young oddball wandering about the French Quarter of New Orleans. Ironically, the book’s author John Kennedy Toole committed suicide because he couldn’t get his book published, then eleven years later the manuscript made it into print and won the 1981 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.
Alas, there’s never been a movie made of it.

However, there’s a new indie film called “The Wackness” – opening today at the Tropic Cinema – that captures some of the same coming-of-age flavor as my fav cult book.

“The Wackness” gives us a wacked-out teenage marijuana dealer (Josh Peck) who trades weed to his shrink (Sir Ben Kingsley) in return for therapy sessions. Forging an odd friendship, the two lost souls wander the streets of New York in search of meaning to their wacky lives.
Seems the teen has a crush on the shrink’s stepdaughter (Olivia Thirlby), but is too inexperienced to act on it. And the depressed shrink is having a meltdown and needs a little handholding. It’s questionable as to who’s helping whom in this strange union.
This story’s set in the summer of 1994, a time when hip hop music ruled. The movie’s soundtrack is cranked with cuts by Nas, Raekwon, Notorious B.I.G., R. Kelly, and Fresh Prince (a/k/a Will Smith). Method Man has a major role in the film.

“For me, hip hop was at its best in ’94: at its most creative and most authentic,” says writer-director Jonathan Levine. “And while the lives of my friends and I were distant from the gangsta life of the rappers, we identified with their spirit, and the authenticity of feeling that they embodied. So we listened. These days, I don’t really listen to much hip hop. I don’t think today’s artists have as much to say; the production’s too slick. In ’94, it was a movement; in ’08, it’s pop. Things just aren’t the same as they were then.”

Turns out, 1994 was the year Levine graduated from high school and that time period is forever imprinted on his psyche. He says, “I wanted to do a movie about that time, you know. About that time in someone’s life. And I really like high school movies that are authentic. And for me that was the best way to be authentic. Rather than trying to write a movie that takes place in present day.”

He admits that the film is semiautobiographical. “But otherwise I never sold weed or traded it with a shrink for therapy or anything like that. But the world it’s grounded in is very specific to my growing up.”

As one moviegoer waxed enthusiastically: “‘The Wackness’ is essentially a slacker flick, a film where people who don’t know what they’re doing with their lives worm their way into our hearts and minds. It’s great, it truly is, and the soundtrack goes a long way to setting the scene of the timeline and feeling of the film.”

Me, I didn’t grow up with hip hop music. So I’m waiting for a “Confederacy of Dunces” movie. Maybe it’ll feature New Orleans jazz.  [from Solares Hill]

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