Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Movies: The Wackness

My own experience of hip hop in 1994 differs ever-so-slightly from The Wackness' Luke Shapiro, in that I was West Coast while he was East, I was finishing 6th grade while he was graduating from high school, and I barely knew what a blunt was, while he was not only smoking weed every day, but selling it out of an Italian ice cart, first with his girlfriend and then with his therapist (I had neither). Of course, Luke also isn't real, and I was, even more awkwardly so than his fumbling, liminal self. The Wackness won't let you forget that, either: Josh Peck's appropriately cringe-worthy stylings (he's Luke) meet mostly dead ends in his supporting cast, a group of type-cast frigid women, flailing men, nymphet-y girls, and assorted weirdos. Except, of course, for Ben Kingsley as Dr. Squires, a flailing man who flails with forlorn grace, trading Luke therapy sessions for dime bags, and slowly becoming the teen's friend.

The music is what makes the movie, but it's also connected with what makes the movie, dare I say, totally wack. Luke isn't the first, last, or only white boy to fall into hip hop and style himself without regard to racial distinction. However, there is absolutely no way, not even in the precocious concrete jungle of Manhattan (where Luke's crush-object Stephanie (the filly-legged Olivia Thrilby) could certainly have "done it hundreds of times," the "it" being sex, and she being barely legal) that an awkward, middle-class white boy like Luke Shapiro would gain the confidence of the armed and body-guarded Jamaican supplier who not only introduces him to the Notorious B.I.G. (who still defines 1994 for me), but also supplies him with obscenely hefty stacks of herb in a dark and smoky warehouse, which Luke then sells on the street, trying to save enough money to save his family's apartment after his father's business goes sour (spoiler: they get evicted anyway). It may seem unreal that Luke and Stephanie scamper off to the Hamptons for a weekend of sun-drenched, virginity-shattering (his, not hers) debauchery, or that Dr. Squires would sit around his multi-million home doing piles of drugs and tagging the furniture with a fat marker, but in New York, these things are possible, and as credible as the wealthy white teens' constant slurping at 40 oz bottles of malt liquor. But the scale of the drug sales is hard to swallow, making an otherwise tender, awkwardly honest film into just a fantasy, and an awfully whitewashed one at that.

Maybe I'm just like Luke, who, as Stephanie accuses, only sees the wackness, while she's concentrating on the dopeness. There's no doubt plenty of dopeness here—most of it sensory (off the hook classic jams, blown-out, impressionistic cinematography, subtle physical performances from Josh Peck and Ben Kingsley)—but it all gets stomped over by the wackness.

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