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The Wackness

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For those confused by this film's title, "the wackness" is roughly the opposite of "the dopeness," according to Olivia Thirlby's Stephanie, who accuses Josh Peck's Luke of fixating on the ways the world is "wack." There's a lot that's wack here, or just plain out of whack, so The Wackness makes an appropriate title. The 2008 Sundance Audience Award winner is a curious creation; while some smart details and technique validate the affection of the Sundance crowd, the film is stricken with a meandering and underdeveloped narrative. But since it also tries to hit the emotional beats of a traditional storyline, there's a disconnect between its actual impact and its intended impact. It works slightly better as a character study. Not your stereotypical drug dealer, Luke doesn't partake, is like a rap-loving jock without the athletic skills, and has New York authenticity in spades. However, since Peck never makes him precisely more than the sum of character traits, it's hard to invest in his journey. Another challenge to that endeavor is his relationship with Stephanie, the apparently slumming popular girl who toys with Luke into blurry emotional territory. It's a contrived pairing offered merely for plot mechanics. At the same time, without their relationship, the film's literal shining moment -- a shower love scene split by sun beams -- wouldn't be possible. Without hyperbole, this ranks up there with the most sensuously filmed kissing scenes of all time, but it sticks out abruptly in a sea of uneven dramedy. Ben Kingsley's pot-smoking therapist may be the biggest contrivance of all, his scenes laden with labored schtick and trumped-up conflict -- though he's plenty fun to watch. Writer-director Jonathan Levine should have a promising future, but his fragmented skills need to coalesce first. The Wackness is more dope than wack, but just barely. Derek Armstrong, All Movie Guide