Friday, July 25, 2008

"The Wackness" tries hard to be original

If you're into adolescence in a big way, "The Wackness" might be just what the shrink ordered. In fact, the movie features a massively irresponsible shrink who buys pot from one of his high-school age patients. With Ben Kingsley diving headlong into the role of an aging hippie and Josh Peck playing the young man who deals him marijuana, the movie manages to climb out of the ordinary. Whether its portrayals tell us anything instructive is another matter, but maybe that's asking too much.

The best thing about "The Wackness" might be the oddball friendship between Kingsley's Dr. Squires and his mostly reluctant patient, a kid who trades marijuana for Squires' half-baked brand of therapy. Luke feels like a misfit; his psychiatrist tells him it's nothing that a little sex wouldn't cure. Despite Dr. Squires' apparent lack of insight, he and Peck's Luke get along reasonably well. But when Luke falls for Squire's stepdaughter (Oliva Thirlby), the good doctor objects. He tries to warn Luke off. Is he attempting to help Luke or is he unwilling to make his stepdaughter the answer to Luke's sexual prayers?

Whatever the case, the young lovers get along famously for a summer, but Thirby's Stephanie eventually decides to teach Luke -- who claims to be Manhattan's biggest teen-age outcast -- a lesson in the perils of young love.

Director Jonathan Levine ("All the Boys Love Mandy Lane'') attempts to find fresh ways to stir overly familiar coming-of-age ingredients, Thanks to Kingsley and Peck, he occasionally succeeds. That doesn't mean that the movie -- a Sundance darling -- isn't eager to leaf through a catalog of indie-pic dysfunction. Squires' life is falling apart. His wife (Famke Jansen) has had enough of him, and he's ogling every bit of young flesh he can find. Luke's parents (Talia Balsam and David Wohl) constantly fight over money. At one point, Squires accompanies Luke on his drug deliveries. Just a couple of fun-loving kids in the city.

There are laughs en route to the movie's off-kilter resolution, but I can't see "The Wackness" becoming an indelible part of adolescent lore, perhaps because it tries a little too hard. I did, however, like the idea of watching two men (separated by nearly 40 years) prove that they weren't all that far apart. As we know, maturity is not exactly the hallmark of American movie culture. (Don't believe me; try "Step Brothers." )

While Levine heads back to 1994, singer Neil Young attempts to catapult himself into the present with "CSNY: Deja Vu," a documentary about a concert tour devoted to opposition to the Iraq War. In order to achieve something approaching balance, Young -- who reunited with Crosby, Stills, Nash for the tour -- asked journalist Mike Cerre to provide a patina of objectivity. Cerre's supposed to be covering the tour, which generates a lot of enthusiasm, but also some contempt. Not all of CSNY's followers welcome the political message that the band dispensed during the summer of '06. Some fussy Atlanta residents, for example, objected to a song calling for president Bush's impeachment. CSNY was active during the Vietnam years and the band's at it again. The music's good, the political slant is just what you'd expect and the whole thing comes off as a mixture of heartfelt protest, solid music and occasional digression. The average age of the band's members: 62, to which the only appropriate response is: Rock 'til you drop, boys!

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