A high-minded alternative to the stoner comedy
Thanks to Judd Apatow, Seth Rogen and their posse, stoner comedies have come into vogue again. Even the original stoners, Cheech & Chong, have emerged for their first tour in decades, with vague whispers about a film to follow.Anyone heading to see The Wackness with hopes of seeing its characters cracking bong-related jokes from behind comically thick clouds of smoke are forewarned: Writer-director Jonathan Levine is not Judd Apatow; lead actor Josh Peck is definitely not Seth Rogen; and The Wackness doesnt belong in the circle of latter-day pot comedies with Knocked Up and the current Pineapple Express. Yes, Peck plays a teenage pot dealer, Luke Shapiro, whose joint hanging from the lips is as ever-present as the cigar from Edward G. Robinsons mouth. There are bongs, and sometimes the mere appearance of the apparatus causes laughs like when Ben Kingsley, as the long-haired, brain-fogged psychoanalyst Dr. Squires, pulls out his bong from under the desk in his Upper East Side office. Sex is a constant presence in the film, and is featured in many of its variations: masturbation, pornography, virginal sex, older guy-on-younger girl, etc.But The Wackness is so much higher-minded than the Apatow/Rogen creations that it doesnt belong to the stoner comedy genre. The predominant emotional tone in The Wackness is sadness there is a scene in which Luke and Dr. Squires debate whether the former is depressed or merely sad and, in stoner comedies, sadness is too much of a downer to dwell on. In the standard stoner film, a sad moment being dumped by a girl, busted by the cops, running out of dope is typically dispensed with almost instantly by a gag. Or the arrival of the next bong hit.In The Wackness, pot is not the cure. Nor is it the problem, exactly, but more like a symptom of the bummer existence, circa 1994, in which Luke finds himself. Luke lives on New Yorks Upper East Side, but is not part of the neighborhoods financial comfort. He learns, from his parents latest argument, that the family is on the verge of eviction. At school, he is a loner, useful to the popular set mainly as a reliable supplier of excellent dope. Selling pot, from a bogus ice-cream truck he pushes around Manhattan, is a way of both making money and killing time. The financial and social stress, and the connection to the underworld (and it truly is an underworld, presided over by Wu-Tang Clan member Method Man, as the Jamaican pot lord Percy) have made Luke old before his time. If you didnt know he was about to graduate high school, youd peg him in his mid-20s.While his contemporaries are escaping the city for the post-graduation summer, Luke gets down to the serious business of peddling pot, minimizing contact with his parents, and, in half-hearted sessions with Dr. Squires, trying to figure out what is wrong with him. At an early session, Squires asks him to make up a problem, and Luke floats the notion that maybe it is his lack of sexual activity.Enter his classmate Stephanie (Olivia Thirlby), who is sexy, sophisticated and stepdaughter to Dr. Squires. With few entertainment options for her own summer, Stephanie begins tagging along on Lukes sales route. The two end up having a torrid weekend on Fire Island that ultimately only deepens Lukes angst, and enhances his need for the psychological aid offered by Dr. Squires, who encourages his sexual explorations so long as its not with his stepdaughter, whom Luke claims to be in love with. And deeper and deeper the triangle goes.The Wackness isnt without its stems and seeds. Getting a handle on Kingsleys Dr. Squires is a chore. Lukes turmoil, though palpable, never comes to a satisfactory resolution. But the film, set to an excellent soundtrack of vintage hip-hop, does add a worthy new genre to cinema: the stoner drama.The Wackness shows Tuesday through Thursday, Sept. 2-4, at the Wheeler Opera House.firstname.lastname@example.org
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