What were you doing in the summer of ’94? I was making the long journey from England to Hungary in a clapped out Mitsubishi with two Hungarian students and no leg room for three days as we sped across Europe praying the car would hold together and listening to tapes of Tom Waits and Bill Hicks non-stop. I was going to live with a Hungarian girl, and teach English to Hungarian kids, and write a Hungarian novel and make a totally new Hungarian start in life. But it didn’t work out like that.
Perfect summers rarely work out how you want them to.
For Luke Shapiro (Josh Peck) the summer of ’94 is all about selling weed from an ice cream cart in New York, listening to the latest hip-hop from Biggie Smalls and chasing that beautiful girl (there’s always a beautiful girl).
It’s also about becoming parent to his fucked up parents and therapist to his fucked up therapist.
The Wackness is a rites of passage dramedy that shows us NYC before it all changed and mayor Rudy Giuliani got tough on crime. But it’s not about making political points or celebrating the mean streets as they once were. It’s about what it’s like to be that beautiful girl’s summer fling, knowing that as soon as the holidays are over you’ll be relegated back to the substitutes’ bench. It’s about the uncool kid learning that he can transcend cool.
This makes it sound way too worthy. The Wackness will have you chuckling away for the full 90 minutes, not least due to Ben Kingsley’s manic turn as Dr Squires, a screwed up shrink who trades sessions for weed and gives advice like ‘Fuck a Black girl. I never got to fuck a Black girl.’
Writer-director Jonathan Levine spent two years getting the script to the point where it was ready to take to Occupant Films, who then put him through six months of intense rewrites. It shows because, despite its slacker feel, the script is lean, tight and very sharp.
It’s a major new contribution to the Rites of Passage genre with an excellent twist on the mentor-disciple relationship as Shapiro starts to ‘cure’ Squires.
It is anything but wack. In fact it’s rather dope.
Here’s another thing for screenwriters to think about. Movies aren’t just marketed through ads on the side of buses these days. There’s this thing called the internet and if you want to get your message out there you’ve gotta get viral.
The Wackness resorted to a very cool marketing campaign in which they forwarded Youtube links to critics ahead of release, putatively promoting an archive cable show presented by main character Shapiro.
It’s nowhere in the film, but it’s something that character might have done. Great idea.