The Wackness (a J!-ENT DVD Review)

January 4, 2009 by  

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“A coming of age film with a good balance of humor, heart in 1994 old school style.  Featuring a well-written screenplay, awesome performances by Ben Kingsley and Josh Peck, ‘The Wackness’ is indeed an enjoyable film.  The DVD features a good number of special features with a non-traditional style that will definitely satisfy many fans of this award winning film.”

© 2008 Shapiro Levine Productions, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

TITLE: The Wackness


DURATION: 99 minutes

DVD INFORMATION: NTSC, 2:35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen, Color, English and French 5.1 (Dolby Digital), French and Spanish Subtitles

RATED: R (for pervasive drug use, language and some sexuality)

COMPANY: Sony Pictures Classic

Directed by Jonathan Levine

Written by Jonathan Levine

Produced by Keith Calder, Felipe Marino, Joe Neurauter

Casting by Joanna Colbert, Richard Mento

Music by David Torn

Casting by Joanna Colbert, Richard Mento

Music Producer: Bryan Lawson

Editor: Josh Noyes

Costume Designer: Michael Clancy

Production Designer: Annie Spitz

Director of Photography: Petra Korner

Co-Producer: Brian Udovich


Ben Kingsley (as Dr. Squires)

Josh Peck (as Luke Shapiro)

Famke Janssen (as Kristin Squires)

Olivia Thirlby (as Stephanie)

Mary-Kate Olsen (as Union)

Jane Adams  (as Elanor)

Method Man (as Percy)

Aaron Yoo (as Justin)

Talia Balsam (as Mrs. Shapiro)

David Wohl (as Mr. Shapiro)

New York, summer 1994, the greatest year in hip-hop, a troubled teenage drug dealer trades pot for therapy sessions with a drug-addled psychiatrist intent on living his life to the fullest. The two form an unlikely friendship, but things get complicated when the kid falls for the doctor’s daughter.

Yo! Don’t be whack!

The award winning film (Sundance Audience Award) “The Wackness” is now out on DVD and it’s definitely one of the coolest and more pleasant coming-of-age films to come out in a long while and a DVD with features that embraces that non-traditional style courtesy of writer/director Josh Levine.

“The Wackness” stars well-known legendary award winning actor Ben Kingsley and “Drake & Josh” actor Josh Peck who appears to have shed his young teen Nickelodeon image for the character of 18-year-old Luke Shapiro.  Both playing roles so different from what we have seen of them and both delivering an exceptional performance.

The year is 1994, A high school teenager in New York who doesn’t have any friends but spends his time selling marijuana using his disguise as a person who sells ice in the park, while saving up all his money.

But all is not cool in the life of Luke, his parents are having some financial problems and in danger of being evicted, his mind is on getting laid and losing his virginity and the only person he can communicate his emotions to is one of his clients, Dr. Jeffrey Squires (Ben Kingsley).  He wants some anti-depressants but Squires tells him to embrace his pain and more or less, he needs to find a girlfriend and get laid.

Dr. Squires is not exactly a role model for Josh.  He’s a product of the 60’s, loves doing cocaine and marijuana and somehow, is able to connect with Luke and provides him professional advice for drugs.  But like Luke, his life is not at all going that great.  His relationship with his wife Kristin is not at all going so great and all they have is their memories of sex and doing drugs.  Meanwhile, he notices that his step-daughter Stephanie (Olivia Thirlby, “Juno”) is getting closer to Luke.  But realizes that it’s not love that she has for Luke, it’s just a sexual fling.

Luke doesn’t have much experience with people, love and thus he discovers himself while hanging out with Stephanie.   Dr. Squires as a father doesn’t want his stepdaughter to be around a drug dealer but at the same time, as his psychiatrist, he doesn’t feel that Stephanie is good for Luke.   But after their passionate time together, he develops feelings for Stephanie so strong that when he says the words of “I Love You” to her, Stephanie realizes that this fling has gone so far and ends their romantic fling and all communication with Luke.   Around that same time, Dr. Squires wife Kristin decides to leave her husband.

Both men are obviously heartbroken but somehow, they find comfort in talking with each other and thus Luke and Dr. Squires form a friendship that would interestingly introduce Dr. Squires to Luke’s world and for Luke, getting the needed therapy from his shrink.  So, the story pretty much focuses on a young man (Luke) who is guided by an older man (Dr. Squires) but then the story starts to shift of the younger guy guiding an older man.


The film is featured in anamorphic widescreen ala 2:35:1 ratio.  The film is shot in different parts of Tokyo but oviously scenes such as the Twin Towers had to be put into the film.  When you do a period piece, especially if it’s 1994, with a busy city like New York, unless you have a huge budget, you got make do what with what you have.  And thus a lot of the scenes are shot indoors but you do have some outdoor scenes with Luke and Stephanie at the beach or areas where Luke is dealing drugs.

As for audio, you get a English and French 5.1 Dolby Digital track and the film is primarily a dialogue driven film.  But audio-wise, what makes this film shine is the fact that it’s 1994 and the old school songs, especially the hip-hop songs of that time are what comes blaring out your speakers.  Bass and all courtesy of artists such as Notorious B.I.G., a Tribe Called Quest, KRS-One, Nas, Biz Markie, etc.


The DVD shines in its amount of special features offered.  Included are:

  • Commentary with Director Jonathan Levine and Actor Josh Peck – A very casual and cool commentary and you learn important tidbits about the film.  From Ben Kingsley giving advice to Josh, having to work with Mary-Kate in the amount of hours they had to work with her and how hard it was for Josh Peck to do his lovemaking scene with Olivia Thirlby.  Levine and Peck have cool and fun commentary talking about blunts, the music, it’s typically a commentary that is like hanging out with friends.  Especially at the end when they talk about hanging out after the commentary and playing XBOX 360, you don’t hear that on director’s commentary, so it’s all good.
  • Keeping it Real: A Day in the Life of Writer/Director Jonathan Levine – For this eight minute feature, Jonathan Levine is traveling around the country and London to promote “The Wackness” at film festivals and interviews at radio stations.  Jonathan is joined by the cast and his girlfriend, production designer Annie Spitz and his brother and his girlfriend.
  • Time in a Bottle: Behind the Scenes of The Wackness – An 18-minute featurette featuring behind-the-scenes on the making of the film.  Levine explains that the film is not 100% autobiographical and a screenplay that was based on an idea he had during filmschool.  Also, featuring Levine’s staff and how they were able to get that 1994 setting.
  • The Luke Shapiro Show Episode 1 & 2 – These are five minute short episodes that were created for cable access featuring Luke Shapiro and his doorman Miguel.  The first featuring Luke, Miguel (on keyboards) and his super  Tony.  The second featuring Luke, Miguel (on keyboards) and a dancer.
  • Deleted Scenes – This scene features four deleted/extended scenes from the film.  The total amount of deleted scenes is about five minutes long featuring “Luke Works in Cap and Gown”, “Extended Squires Vacation”, “Squires in Stephanie’s Room” and “Dad’s Walkman Scheme”.
  • The Wackness Trailers – Featuring all five theatrical and teaser trailers

I have to say that “The Wackness” is a pretty cool coming-of-age film and yes, there have been many of these type of movies but a definitely, unique film.  Having the film set in 1994, having the main character as a drug dealer, having his psychiatrist as one of his clients and also a hardcore drug user and just how everything just comes together is quite enjoyable.

But the performances by Ben Kingsley and Josh Peck was well done.  Two roles by talents that I would never see coming.  Ben Kingsley in so many serious roles in “Ghandi”, “Schindler’s List”, “Rules of Engagement” to name a few and then Josh Peck who stars in the Nickelodeon teen show “Drake & Josh”, these two taking on roles so different and to see them drinking alcohol and doing/dealing drugs, definitely it’s quite a bit of a surprise.  But the unique thing is that these two talents had tremendous chemistry and everything worked out quite well.

And there are also a good number of talent in this film.  Olivia Thirlby did a great job as Squire’s daughter Stephanie and Luke’s love interest.  Did a great job playing a sexual teen and then you have Mary-Kate Olsen as a pothead who just makes out with Ben Kingsley.  Famke Janssen as Dr. Squires sexy wife, Method Man playing the character “Percy” as Luke’s supplier and much more.

There are just these small moments in the film, from mannerisms to the small things that a character does, it really makes this film seem quite realistic and make it all work.  Of course, the early 90’s nostalgia and the music plays a big part in the film.  When Luke and Olivia are making love, R. Kelly playing on the boom box to Luke playing Zelda on his NES, these small things are what many people who grew up at the time and listened to the music can related to.  So, definitely a nice touch!

And the DVD,  just makes you love the film even more with cool commentary, the featurettes and more.  It’s not all business-like and professional.  You have Levine and Peck quite casual and as I mentioned in the commentary section, it’s like hanging out with a few friends and just everyone having a good time.

Now granted, perhaps I may be a bit biased having grown up with the pop culture of the 90’s and hearing the songs and the style from those years boosting my appreciation for the film but for an indie film, I have to admit that the overall presentation was quite non-traditional.  Again, there are a bunch of “coming-of-age” films out there but this one was really thinking outside of the box and instead of getting a “revenge of the nerd” happy-feel good storyline, each of these characters have flaws but it’s all about discovering one’s self.

All in all, a solid DVD with a lot of humor, a lot of soul and all out fun!

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