BY ANDREW KALLOCH
Led by The Dark Knight, Hollywood studios brought in more than $4 billion during the summer season. I will not bore you with tired opinions about the box office hits. What I will do is highlight a couple of limited release, independent films.
The Wackness (R) starring Ben Kingsley, Josh Peck, Olivia Thirlby
One of the elements of film that makes it so profound is the retelling of ancient stories in a unique way. The Wackness is not a new story. It is a classic coming-of-age tale set in New York City in the summer of 1994. An audience of the Nintendo Generation will certainly appreciate its many pop-culture references. Indeed, as a period piece, it is a film of the highest quality.
Its ultimate message, however, is not historical but emotional. As Luke Shapiro (Josh Peck), a neighborhood drug dealer, falls for his psychologist, Doctor Squires’ (Ben Kingsley) stepdaughter (Olivia Thirlby), you relive your first love step by step-the awkwardness and the excitement alike. Dr. Squires’s warnings that his stepdaughter is not the right type for Luke are ironic given his own inability to find lasting love. As such, the stories of the young man and the old, the fearless and the fearful, inform one another throughout the film.
There are sappy, cliché elements of course; par for the course for all but the absolute best romance films. However, The Wackness maintains its focus due to a truly emotive performance by Peck. The love story is merely a vehicle to explore the angst of the adolescent mind. Indeed, Luke jumps into his newfound love with the sort of reckless abandon we learn to avoid as adolescence turns to adulthood. We teach ourselves to avoid it, yet we also watch nostalgically as Luke pours himself into life. As a result of Luke’s na’veté or genius, depending on one’s perspective, he experiences the full range of emotions as his relationship rises and ultimately falls. It is his embrace of the fall that defines his character and gives the movie its enduring moral.
Momma’s Man (NR) starring Matt Boren, Ken Jacobs, Flo Jacobs
I saw this movie at the Angelika Theater, a fantastic place to watch independent film and hear the subway roar by every few minutes. It is quintessential New York. Before the film started, a theater manager told us that we would have a special opportunity to ask questions of the writer/director and cast at the end of the film. After ninety-odd minutes of painfully heavy-handed drivel, all I could think to ask was whether it was as painful to film as it was to watch.
Momma’s Man is another film that tackles a familiar storyline-the midlife crisis. The protagonist, Mikey (Matt Boren), goes to New York on a business trip, leaving his wife and young daughter behind in California. After rediscovering boxes of his childhood stored away in his room, he produces excuse after excuse not to return to the West Coast. While his doting mother (Flo Jacobs) offers him coffee, tea, Raisin Bran, and everything else under the sun in an effort to dig him from his rut, his father (Ken Jacobs) grows increasingly skeptical of his son’s intentions.
Unfortunately for the viewer, we do not know why Mikey pines for adolescence so much. He has no friends, his childhood home, while cozy, is bizarre to say the least, and by all accounts his wife and daughter are loving and beautiful.
Presumably writer/director Azazel Jacobs, son of Ken and Flo, designed the tertiary characters in the film to give the viewer a glimpse into Mikey’s fragile psyche and offer an explanation for his confounding behavior. Instead, the characters to which we are privy are, without exception, undeveloped and unhelpful to understanding the protagonist’s longing for his adolescence.
Near the end of the film, in-between glances at my watch, which had approached 100 glances per minute, Mikey falls down the stairs leading from the door of his parent’s loft in TriBeCa to the street below. The sound you hear is the last gasp of subtlety crying out as it is bludgeoned by the director’s iron fist.