The Wackness

I'm no nearer to understanding . . .

Stephanie: (to Luke, at the Fire Island beach: ) "I see the dopeness in everything, and you just see the wackness."

In 1994 I was totally away from the drug/sex scene: I was in teaching and doing TV 25's World Film Classics. That was it, so now I avidly watch retro films such as Wackness to bone up on that not-regrettably-blank part of my life. (The lack of cell phones alone is a pleasant recollection.)

Recent high-school grad Luke (Josh Peck) seeks the counsel of shrink Dr. Jeff Squires (Ben Kinglsey), who is almost as immature as his client, both seeking female comfort and the comfort of weed. As their friendship blossoms under mutual needs, their personal relationships are in warp-speed flux, virgin Luke with decidedly not virginal Jessica (Olivia Thirlby), Squires' step daughter, and Squires trying to save his marriage.

The rest of the film is the formulaic coming-of-age summer-after-graduation slide to college. Needless to say, Luke changes considerably although he never stops selling drugs. His fated romance with Stephanie is the most striking lesson he learns:

Luke Shapiro: Steph, just stop talking. Please just stop talking. But could you just stand there till I leave?
Stephanie: Why?
Luke Shapiro: I've never had my heart broken before.

Even more interesting than Luke's brushes with maturity and the law is Squires' consistently invading the young people's world, most egregiously his making out with Mary-Kate Olsen. But Sir does it with uncharacteristic understatement, making his performance on a par with Luke's somnolent shuffle, but far superior in the craft of acting.

The production design is a seamless evocation of the era while the music adds the edge of the freewheeling nineties. Luke's dull-eyed, dopey mien has been played in such notable characters as Donny Darko and Napoleon Dynamite. In all those cases, I have felt the characters to be sweet and loveable, but I must say I'm no nearer to understanding their slackness any more than their wackness.