Vanity of vanities, says the Teacher, vanity
of vanities! All is vanity.
The Wackness Rated R. Our ratings: V- 1; L- 7; S/N-8 .
Running time: 1 hour 33 min.
‘When the unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it wanders through waterless regions looking for a resting- place, but not finding any, it says, “I will return to my house from which I came.” When it comes, it finds it swept and put in order. Then it goes and brings seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and l ive there; and the last state of that person is worse than the first.’ Luke 11:24-26
There seems to be a run of morally ambiguous films this summer, with this tale of a psychiatrist giving therapy sessions to a teenage boy in exchange for pot being a prime example. Ben Kingsley again immerses himself into an unlikable person, Dr. Squires, a reprehensible therapist who gives immoral advice, but at least not as vicious of a character like the criminal he played in Sexy Beast. Actor Josh Peck stands up well to the masterful Kingsley as Luke Shapiro, a high school graduate looking forward to college and selling pot around Manhattan from a fake ice cream push cart. It is 1994, and the newly elected Mayor Rudolph Giuliani has not yet begun to expunge from public view the drug dealers and graffiti.
Although 40 years older than his patient, Dr. Squires forms a strange friendship with the teenager, accompanying him on his dope-selling rounds with the push cart. Both are depressed but find some release in pot and in their relationship—at least until Luke takes the doctor’s advice to “get laid.” The boy’s choice is Stephanie (Olivia Thirlby), a class mate as cool as himself, There is one little problem in that she is Dr. Squire’s stepdaughter. The good doctor is not at all pleased by this development, but there seems there is little he can do about it.
Both psychiatrist and patient have home problems. Squires and his wife (Famke Janssen) are so spaced out that their marriage is one in name only, but neither has the energy to split up. Luke’s father has suffered a financial reverse, so the family faces eviction from their Upper Eastside apartment. Luke hopes to raise enough money to save the day by selling an extra drug supply, but soon learns the economic facts of life. He also arrives at a certain amount of wisdom when he lays aside his cool and says out loud to Stephanie that he loves her. It seems that she is not prepared for such emotional honesty and commitment.
Director/writer Jonathan Levine’s coming of age film offers more satisfaction to viewers than Woody Allen’s film, with Luke arriving at a degree of maturity. There is an air of melancholy or sadness when Stephanie also learns at least a mote of wisdom, though a bit too late. We wonder about Luke’s future, especially should he follow through on his interest in psychiatry: unless he has some inner core of belief or values, would he be any better at counseling than the depressed Dr. Squires?