The Wackness



Sundance Film Festival

PARK CITY -- Sunday mornings don't usually go down with standing ovations, but "The Wackness" inspired a packed Sundance house to forget their Saturday-night pains and stand up and cheer.

A rollicking performance by Ben Kingsley as a pothead psychiatrist would steal the show in lesser films, but "The Wackness' is not overpowered: It rips in all aspects, compliments of talented writer-director Jonathan Levin.

Generically, it's a rite-of-summer-passage yarn, but "The Wackness" bursts the form. It's hard to envision "The Wackness" not winning the Audience Award.

In this 1994-set piece, recent high-school grad Luke (Josh Peck) sells weed and yearns to get laid. He trades grass for therapy from a drug-fuddled shrink (Kingsley) who exhorts him to sew his wild oats, albeit in more colorful language.

The former-Deadhead doc doesn't realize that Luke's lust is for his nubile stepdaughter (Olivia Thirlby). A precocious classmate of Luke's, she's the kindof girl who, seemingly, has stepped out of his steamiest masturbatory fantasies.

Both a comedy of manners of the Upper East Side, as well as a raw romantic roundelay, "The Wackness" is a tightly packed entertainment. It explodes through familiar teen-transition territory with dark ironies, but, all the while, touches are sentiments.

Under filmmaker Levine's inspired hand, the performances erupt with precise energies. As the decadent doctor, Kingsley is marvelous as a randy old-goat, who anesthetizes his fears that life has passed him by. Peck as low-key Luke is a wonderful touchstone, exuding both decency and daring, while Thirlby is entrancing as the temptress teen, delicately revealing her wild-child's emotional wounds.

Technical contributions torque this splendid movie ride. Special praise to editor Josh Noyes for the well-calibrated pace, and composer David Torn for the ripe and torrid sounds.

Producers: Joe Neurauter, Keith Calder, Felipe Marino
Director/screenwriter: Jonathan Levine
Director of photography: Petra Korner
Editor: Josh Noyes
Music: David Torn
Luke Shapiro: Josh Peck
Dr. Squires: Ben Kingsley
Mrs. Squires: Famke Janssen
Stephanie: Olivia Thirlby
Union: Mary Kate Olsen
Running time -- 93 minutes
No MPAA rating