‘The Whackness’, a Sony Pictures Classic Release, caught my attention because it has a universal theme we ALL like (or not) getting laid and getting high!
It’s the summer of 1994, and the streets of New York are pulsing with hip hop and
wafting with the sweet aroma of marijuana. The newly-inaugurated mayor, Rudolph
Giuliani, is only beginning to implement his anti-fun initiatives against “crimes” like noisy portable radio, graffiti and public drunkenness.
Two people, however, are missing out on the excitement: Luke (Josh Peck) is a socially uncomfortable teenage pot dealer with no friends, issues with his parents, and a colossal lack of confidence with girls.
He trades weed for sessions with his therapist, Dr. Squires (Sir Ben Kingsley), whose much-younger wife (Famke Janssen) is slipping away from him. Squires, a drug-addled shrink with a hairline retreating to the back of his neck and a state of mind slouching back to adolescence, is an unlikely role model-but the two of them forge a friendship based on a mutual need: getting laid!
The intergenerational duo set off on a crawl that takes them all over New York, where they encounter several of Luke’s “business associates,” including a Phish-following dreadlocked pixie (Mary Kate Olsen), a New Wave, keyboard-playing one-hit-wonder(Jane Adams), and Luke’s supplier (Method Man).
Luke has long had an aching crush on Dr. Squires’ way-out-of-his league stepdaughter, Stephanie (Olivia Thirlby from “Juno”), and is stunned at his good luck when she returns his affections. Luke’s innocent first love experience with Stephanie becomes a life lesson that sets him on the pathway towards adulthood.
And when Squires breaks down, it is up to the younger man to throw the older one a lifeline.
Propelled by an exuberant hip hop score, “The Wackness” captures the spell of 1994-a time of pagers, not cell phones; a time when Tupac and Biggie were alive but Kurt Cobain had just died. Funny and moving, “The Wackness” is an offbeat tale of two lost souls stumbling towards maturity.
‘The Wackness’ opens in theaters July 3, 2008.
Following is a special interview with director Jonathan Levine and star Josh Peck. For those of you to old to understand or to young to remember, following the interview is a SLANG DICTIONARY with “1994 speak”.
JONATHAN: People are always asking me how autobiographical “The Wackness” is. I think anytime you write something about a time in your life, you need to access whatever emotions you were feeling at the time, and I definitely needed to go there in order to write something that rang true. Certainly the world is the world I grew up in, and the characters and a lot of the alienation that Luke’s feeling is the stuff I felt, but as far as the facts and details, none of it’s based on reality.
JOSH: In one way or another, I have been in those situations that Luke goes through in the movie, like trying to think of something cool to say to the girl I’m trying to get hooked up with. or just kicking back with friends and questioning whether these people are really my friends, or whether these people are cats that I wouldn’t wanna hang out with five years from now. There are so many things flying through your mind when you’re 18, 19, 20, and the feelings are so visceral, they feel so real in the moment and all encompassing and are such all or nothing.
I really identified with Luke’s bleakness. It literally came down to the fact that I was two years older than Luke was in the script. It was a part of my life that I felt that I was more at the end of the chapter with, while Luke was just beginning it.
I remember when I auditioned for you the first day: it was the scene where I’m in the bathroom with Olivia. You gave me a note that maybe this kid isn’t so comfortable in this situation-maybe he isn’t good at acting like this cool guy who is feeling fine. And I was like, “alright cool,” so then I kind of referred back to what comes naturally to me-being semi-neurotic, always trying to make light of the situation whenever I feel pressure. You afforded me the freedom to make him funny. It’s rooted in this sort of pain and uncertainty that Luke has about life and people.
JON: I think I never had an exact idea in my mind about what this kid was going to be until you came in. When you’re writing, you write what you know and hope that an actor will be able make it his own and take it to the next level. As a director, I wanted to give you as much freedom as possible, as long as the spirit of what you were doing was consistent with what the ideas I had in the script. I never wanted to handcuff you with any preconceived notions. But now of course, I would want you to do the exact same thing. (laughs)
JOSH: When you asked me where my family was from, I said, “I’m from NewYork, but most of my family lives in New Jersey, and I fucking hate Jersey!” And so Luke started having this thing for Jersey too. He says in the movie, “Well, I can’t live in Jersey!” I thought it was really funny.
JON: Once you put your mind on Luke there was no such thing as a wrong decision. It just became part of the life of the character.
And you had a pretty good knowledge about the music of the time. You really identified with Biggie and the sentiments in Biggie’s songs. To me, the music is the biggest thing about grounding yourself in ‘94. Of course, you were only eight then.
JOSH: A precocious eight.
JON: You do have significant memories from that time…
JOSH: I was watching “Power Rangers” in ‘94. I was playing “Duck Hunt” in my room on the Nintendo NES, you know what I’m saying? For me it was a different reality. But I tried to remember the major subjects that adults were talking about in ‘94. Everybody was talking about Clinton coming in. I remember all the older kids talking about “Pulp Fiction,” and how unbelievable it was-people were seeing it 7, 8, 9 times. And those were all things that were incorporated into the movie, with the video games, and the culture and the high tops, and the haircuts.
I remember my babysitter was always watching “90210,” and I had the same haircut as five out of six of the guys on that show. I was just trying to reinvestigate that part of my brain and psyche that might have gone dormant if I wasn’t doing the movie. Also, a lot of the slang is still used now.
JON: The vernacular hasn’t changed that much.
JOSH: When I started on the movie, I found myself saying a lot of words that are used more sparingly now-words that we probably would’ve used a lot more in ‘94. I found myself saying: “that’s mad cool,” or “that’s mad crazy,” or “that’s really dope.” They just became second nature in a way.
JON: But sometimes you’d say something that was-
JOSH: Totally. You were like, “No, we didn’t say that in 94.” And then wewould change it.
JON: It helped a lot that you and Olivia happened to be from New York. That’s not why I cast you two-it’s just a coincidence. But it made things a lot easier.
With Sir Ben, it wasn’t about authenticity. He is not the kind of “New York Actor” you might expect in that role-he’s just an amazing actor. He gave this distinctly ballsy performance, a strange concoction. Our idea was to just bring him into this world and have the world react to him.
JOSH: I remember Olivia and I were in a state of perpetual anticipation, this whirlwind of: “Sir Ben! Oh my God, what do we expect? “What’s it going to be?”
He came to me the first day of shooting and gave me a hug and said, “This part chose you; you didn’t choose this part.” And right then, every wall, every piece of trepidation, everything fell away-because he truly made me feel like an equal.
JON: I think, to Ben’s credit, he knew we would be intimidated, and he knew that this was not going to work if Josh and I were scared of him. Not to mention the fact that he’s just a sweet man.
JOSH: Sir Ben said at one of our interviews at Sundance that we had to be comfortable in order to be vulnerable in front of each other. There are scenes in the movie where I break down in front of Sir Ben-near tears, totally heartbroken.
And if our relationship hadn’t been one of mutual respect, I don’t think I would have had this comfort going to such places of vulnerability. My character’s in front of him, sort of oozing out all of this uncertainty, this state of unhappiness, and just cynicism and kind of being angry at the world, which I think is a definite theme with most young men. You’re so unsure of yourself, you don’t know who to be mad at… you just pretty sure you’re mad at something.
JON: Kingsley’s character identifies with Luke’s restlessness, his malaise, his kind of unfocused anger. I think people like Squires intellectually know that they’re doing the wrong thing. I’m sure he knows he’s in a loveless marriage. I think that in a way, Squires starts to think that if he can help Luke through this, he can also teach himself a lesson or two.
JOSH: I think Squires is trying to caution Luke as much as possible. He’s telling Luke that this is what you could end up being if you’re not careful. And you don’t want to end up being like me! From the first scene he says tells Luke that he’s graduating tomorrow and he sees no sense of happiness inside Luke. Squires is trying to save Luke from all the pain and the suffering that Squires has sort of figured out too late in his life. And now he really can’t do much about it.
JON: But I think by choosing to mentor Luke, he’s also trying to live vicariously through Luke.
JOSH: Olivia said a really interesting thing-that Luke kind of wishes he was Squires, and Squires kind of wishes that he was Luke.
JON: Both of them are pretty clueless about women.
JOSH: Luke was unbelievably kind of needy toward Stephanie because it was this new relationship. There was so much unfulfilled shit in his life. To have someone come out of the woodwork that kind of gets you-you want to kind of throw yourself at this person and never let go. Get as much out of them as you can. I think that that was the downfall-they both weren’t ready for this kind of relationship. She was just kind of damaged, and maybe unable to love in that moment.
JON: I think there was a genuine connection. It was just about a time and a place. If these two had met three years after college, they might have gotten married.
Unfortunately, it just didn’t work out at the time.
JOSH: Even now, being a couple years older, I constantly say to anyone who will listen, that even if the right girl came into my life right now, I would know what the hell to do with her. Because I know that psychologically I’m not ready to completely be there in a relationship at this point in my life.
JON: Originally when I wrote the script, Stephanie was like the “Fuck You” to every girl who dumped me when I was at that age. The character was definitely a lot less appealing on the page. But Olivia injected the character with such humanity. She did this wonderful thing in the last scene. When Josh tells her that he’s never been heartbroken before, she smiles to herself as he goes down the elevator: she knows he’s gonna be okay; she knows that whatever they went through was worth it because they had that connection. And so it went from being the “Fuck You” to every girl that ever dumped me to being, “Okay, I know why you dumped me, and you were right,” which is a much more constructive way to go about it. But it really is a testament to how much Olivia identified with the inner life of that character. It’s hard for me as a guy to write girls…if I understood girls I’d be a lot better off. But she did such a wonderful job I feel like I gained insight into my own life.
JOSH: You’re right about that. I came into the movie a bit heartbroken from stuff that went down in my own life. And it was great be able to incorporate that into Luke. I had a crystal-clear image of who Stephanie was to me in my life.
You know, they say acting isn’t therapy, but it can be a great way to get through shit. And it was true for me. By the end of the movie, I had a much better perspective on my life through Luke’s eyes. It was great to be able to bring out these emotions every day and for me to be able to put them to use, instead of welling up from some sappy John Mayer song on the radio. It was a great luxury I was afforded. I think Luke is just pretty damn cool. I definitely was proud to play this kid, and to be in his skin.
A cigar that has been hollowed out and refilled with marijuana.
[From “Phillies Blunts,” a brand of cigars often used to make blunts.]
To leave a place: This party sucks. Let’s bounce!
[Possible origin: Bouncer]
Plural form of breast.
[Possible origin: Sketches from the TV sketch comedy series “In Living Color” (1990-94),
in which David Alan Grier plays a convicted rapist called Tiny who always says
“breasteses” instead of breasts.]
A brand of malt liquor with a very high alcohol content.
Cool, nice, awesome.
Slang name for heroin, derived from its high dopamine content.
[Note: weed is not dope (noun), although weed is always dope (adjective)]
Totally high, too stoned to care. Dude, you faded?
High quality marijuana, often of Jamaican origin.
[Hindi word, introduced to Jamaicans by West Indian laborers.]
A close friend.
1. Cool, awesome, the best
2. Wild, crazy, disgusting
(Ill is good or bad depending on how it is said)
-verb, variant of ill
1. Doing things that can get you in trouble, i.e. vandalism, doing drugs, etc.
Antonym for chillin’
1. Extremely, very: That girl is mad hot.
2. A lot. How many blunts are you going to smoke? Mad blunts!
[Derived from the word’s non-slang meaning, i.e. “insane”]
An underground tape or CD made by a DJ, containing authorized or unauthorized
remixed songs that are sold on the street and in shops, usually in the styles of Hip Hop,
R&B, or Reggaeton.
Goodbye, See ya later: I’m going to bounce. Peace out, homeboy.
Very bad, the worst: All politicians are bad but Giuliani is wack.
[Perhaps back formation from wacky or wacko]
1. An expression of approval and agreement. -This weed is wack. -Word.
2. Is that right? Really? -My homeboy and I smoked five blunts last night. -Word?
[Origin: A shortened version of “You have my word” or “My word is my bond.”]