The Wackness preview

    In 1994, an emcee named Nas set a lyrical standard by
    dropping the most influential rap album in history. In the same year, nine of
    the best underground New York City MCs christened themselves a hip-hop dynasty
    called the Wu-Tang Clan, and a heavyweight rapper from Brooklyn
    named Biggie Smalls, aka the Notorious B.I.G., dominated not just hip-hop but
    all of music. In ’94, radio would think twice to play rap and most rappers
    would struggle to go gold. Yet regardless of this struggle, it was the year
    when music was raw, vigorous and real.

    “The Wackness” takes place in this golden era of hip-hop.
    Written and directed by Jonathan Levine, “The Wackness” is
    semi-autobiographical, following teenage drug dealer Luke (Josh Peck), who
    trades therapy sessions for pot with psychiatrist Dr. Squires (Sir Ben
    Kingsley). Aside from being an unabashed tribute to the best year in hip-hop,
    the film is an honest look into the lives of two emotionally isolated people
    and the steps they take to overcome their loneliness.

    While many have already lazily pegged the film a pothead
    comedy, doing so overlooks everything that the film does so well. Though
    marijuana is an important aspect, it certainly isn’t the film’s focus. Luke’s
    pot dealing and Dr. Squires’ pot smoking are both a means of escape and a way
    for both characters to confront their immaturity. The movie flourishes,
    creating a genuine feel for the characters and the culture surrounding them.
    Like hip-hop, marijuana is indicative of the culture.

    The authenticity of the film wouldn’t have been achieved
    without the convincing performances. Newcomer Josh Peck of “Drake & Josh”
    fame delivers a performance that not only makes it hard to believe Peck is a
    Nickelodeon alumnus but also makes current Hollywood
    fave Shia LaBeouf look like an amateur. And while Kingsley’s performance as the
    druggie-psychiatrist is a breath of fresh air from his usual repertoire of
    serious roles, at times Peck’s performance outshines the good knight. Credit
    also goes to an excellent supporting cast, especially Olivia Thirlby, who was
    overlooked in last year’s “Juno” but stands out as the girl who breaks Luke’s
    heart. And Kingsley’s makeout session with Mary-Kate Olsen alone could be
    reason enough to see it.

    Backed by excellent direction and a dense hip-hop soundtrack
    with everything from Raekwon, A Tribe Called Quest and even some good ol’ Fresh
    Prince, the film overflows with obvious passion, making “The Wackness” all the
    more special.

    If there’s anything to criticize, it’s that the film goes
    overboard with the ’90s references (throwing out two “Forrest Gump” allusions),
    and while it’s understandable to create relatable characters, sometimes even
    the most honest of emotions can seem drawn out. Perhaps not as witty as last
    winter’s indie hit “Juno,” “The Wackness” still proves in every way to be more
    substantial and, ultimately, more authentic. July 3.

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