It is June 1994 and Luke Shapiro (Josh Peck) is contemplating his graduation from high school and the summer which lies ahead before he heads off to college. He sees a psychiatrist, Dr Squires (Ben Kingsley), who offers advice and a shoulder to lean on in return for Shapiro's supply of cannabis, for that is how the boy makes his money, pushing around an ice cream cart filled with the stuff and selling to his customers, with the police never suspecting. But the months ahead may be lonely ones, as everyone he knows is heading off on vacation - well, nearly everyone.
Director Jonathan Levine followed up his combination of indie movie and slasher All the Boys Love Mandy Lane with this, which was far more indie and nothing to do with running away from homicidal maniacs at all. It came across as a far more personal project having been set at a time when he would have been about the same age as the teenage protagonist, although how much the fiction echoed his experiences was a moot point, as the Squires character was far more a construct of this style of movie than someone you could wholly believe in as a living, breathing human being, unlike Shapiro.
Fortunately for Levine, the actor playing the doctor was Kingsley, who over the years appeared to gravitate often towards the more idiosyncratic end of the thespian spectrum, his choices being more evidence of someone who enjoyed working rather than someone who was especially picky about how those choices would reflect his more serious ambitions. And that's what is so enjoyable and easy to appreciate about him, that he could show up in a low budget fantasy movie just as easily as a work with more critical weight, so here he must have thought he was combining the two in this British-American co-production which he put on an accent and a long, grey wig for.
Not to mention a bunch of quirks that earned him an unfair Razzie nomination, as he was one of the best reasons to watch this, a film that built a modest cult of those who acknowledged that this was yet another coming of age tale but liked what Levine and his team did with it regardless. Peck and Kingsley made for a very amusing double act, all the more so for being so unlikely as Shapiro finds the only friend he really has during that summer is his psychiatrist. There is someone else in his life, however, and that is Stephanie (Olivia Thirlby) who is Squires' stepdaughter from his loveless marriage to Famke Janssen, playing the wife, a thankless role.
Shapiro is suffering what nobody around him seems to be, which is a strong dose of taking life very seriously. Under that stoner's exterior beats the heart of a deeply troubled man, yearning for acceptance as he grows to adulthood but failing to find it - and yet, there's a chance with Stephanie when she gives him her phone number, she having been left behind for the season by her friends as well. Normally she would be out of his league, but he manages to convince himself he has a chance with her, leading to a by turns charming and embarrassing sequence where they head off to her parent's beach house for a liaison that goes as badly, though ironically as well, as he could have hoped. With every character medicating themselves either legally or illegally as if to stave off some awful truth about life that Shapiro eventually comes to terms with, The Wackness was a hazy, dying to be trendy but actually quite nerdy take on familiar themes, its sympathies its strengths. Music by David Torn, with a bunch of rap on the soundtrack too.