Interview: Josh Peck and Jonathan Levine on “The Wackness”

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06302008_thewackness.jpgBy Stephen Saito

Jonathan Levine calls “The Wackness” a “second first film.” In a way, he’s speaking for his whole cast. While Levine is making his debut as a writer after helming the much buzzed-about (but still unreleased) teen horror comedy hybrid, “All the Boys Love Mandy Lane,” he hired an eclectic cast for his latest film that includes Nickelodeon staple Josh Peck, Olivia Thirlby (“Juno”), Method Man, Famke Janssen, Sir Ben Kingsley, and in case you hadn’t heard, Mary-Kate Olsen. It’s an unusual ensemble for an unusual coming-of-age story of a teen (Peck) who forms an unlikely friendship with a psychologist (Kingsley) by trading marijuana for therapy in 1994 New York. It’s clearly a personal story for Levine, but it’s not an autobiographical one, though both he and Peck both sweated out sticky summers in Manhattan, listening to Notorious B.I.G.’s “Big Poppa” a generation apart. Now, the two have collaborated on a generational anthem of their own that bridges the gap.

Even though this is set in a very specific time and place, there’s something very universal about it as a coming of age experience — was that something that really came out in the script for you?

Josh Peck: No question. Granted, in ’94 I was eight years old, rocking shoes with lights in them and watching “Power Rangers,” but I think the universal thread throughout the movie was the plight of Sir Ben’s character and my character Luke, their disillusionment and cynicism and not having the support structure that most of us come to lean on. It seemed to me that Luke, at 18, was just becoming a man, but what constitutes [that] — experiences? Relationships? You can go to war and you can vote, but what does it really mean? That’s initially what drew me in.

Jonathan Levine: Everything crystallized once he walked into the room. Even though a lot of this character comes from my personality and my own experience, I had no idea of what [he] looked like or how he carried himself. It wasn’t necessarily about the time period. I was constantly impressed by the ways in which [Josh] was making this character his own and in doing that, it allowed me to have a little distance, a little perspective.

Did you find it easier to write from personal experience,or was it something that you looked back on and realized you had injected more of yourself into than you initially thought?

JL: The latter, definitely. I wrote and I wrote and I wrote, this very digressive 140 page first draft [that] just came from the lack of my censoring myself. Looking back, [I’d say] these are the themes I’m working with, this is what I should magnify, this is what I should cut.

I was Paul Schrader’s assistant for six months before I went to film school, and he’s very much about knowing what’s going to happen on every page before you even start writing dialogue — the entire plot and character arcs are mapped out. When he would leave the office, I’d sneak looks into his old files and there’d be the yellow piece of legal paper with a handwritten “Page 10 – Travis meets Iris.” (laughs) But this was a serendipitous thing; the more I wrote, the more it felt like the right thing to be doing.

07012008_thewackness3.jpgJonathan, you’ve mentioned in previous interviews that you wanted the Notorious B.I.G. on the soundtrack because his music was a deeper than he’s given credit for. From the title on down, “The Wackness” seems like it might be a pretty superficial movie, but Ben Kingsley signed on after comparing his character to Falstaff. Was it your intention to make something that worked on both those levels?

JL: For me, the number one goal was always to entertain people, make them laugh and make them feel for the character. But the more we give the audience the cues that they’re used to, and I actually learned this on “Mandy Lane,” the more you’re able to subvert that. You can do more if you’re safely protected by both the genre and by giving the audience the traditional things that they want.

I’m an audience member as well, and I don’t want to be bored or overtly preached to, either, but I think that [“The Wackness”] was a great forum in which to ask deeper questions than you would normally expect from this type of movie. You hope at the end of the day that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, and I think that if you have it in the story, and I was aware we had it in the story, then that’s a good start.

I remember David Gordon Green getting criticized for “All The Real Girls” because people were saying oh, he’s too young to be nostalgic. With “The Wackness,” was going back a decade a little strange?

JL: One of my favorite pastimes is making fun of myself [laughs] and that’s usually a hindsight kind of activity. So I think it’s not nostalgia so much as just showing people who don’t know any better making mistakes, to show the characters in these vulnerable states.

By the way, “All the Real Girls” is one of my favorite movies of the past 10 years. We have a mutual friend, me and David Gordon Green. After “Mandy Lane,” I didn’t really know what to do because I didn’t know anyone who’d made a feature yet. She put me in touch with him and he gave me the advice to go ahead and do whatever I could to make sure this movie happened.

Josh, you go to some vulnerable places in this — did this touch on any real life stuff for you, too?

JP: No question. Acting’s not therapy, but it can be therapeutic. Unfortunately where the real emotion and deep feelings lie is in a place we’d normally keep so protected and wouldn’t allow to be projected in front of thousands of people. It’s the masochistic part of the profession, that it’s painful to go to those places and yet that’s where the good shit lies. It makes you grateful in the end that you’ve had heartbreak for a part like this, though in the midst of it, you’re not sure if you’re going to live or die. [laughs]

On a lighter note, was it surreal to be in a room with both Sir Ben Kingsley and Method Man, or Sir Ben and Mary-Kate Olsen?

JP: It’s a credit to who Sir Ben is, this charismatic chameleon; he’s able to relate to different kinds of people. When it was Method Man and Sir Ben and I, we were talking about acting and Method’s accent in the movie and it was a somewhat brotherly, dysfunctional relationship. With someone like Mary-Kate — he’s got this debonair quality and the girls, I think, get a bit weak in the knees about it. Only when you’re that revered and that comfortable in who you are can you get the likes of a 21-year-old socialite, or anyone for that matter, to really swoon. So it was nice to witness that.

07012008_thewackness2.jpg Josh, not to bring up a sore subject, but Jonathan said at Tribeca he hadn’t seen your Nickelodeon sitcom “Drake and Josh” before filming. Do you think that was like a good thing or a bad thing?

JP: It was a bad thing only because he wasn’t able to enjoy years and years of comedic genius. [laughs] It probably was a good thing, because any time you can go into a room and have no preconceived notions and they can hinge their decision entirely on your performance is a good thing. Now he watches “Drake and Josh” when he’s at the gym, so the relationship’s gone full circle.

JL: This’s true. I watch it at the gym — it’s always on. It seems to me like a modern day “Honeymooners.”

[Photos: Josh Peck; Jonathan Levine; Olivia Thirlby and Peck – “The Wackness,” Sony Pictures Classics, 2008]

“The Wackness” opens in limited release on July 3rd.


New Nasty

Whips, Chains and Hand Sanitizer

Turn On The Full Season Of Neurotica At IFC's Comedy Crib

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Jenny Jaffe has a lot going on: She’s writing for Disney’s upcoming Big Hero 6: The Series, developing comedy projects with pals at Devastator Press, and she’s straddling the line between S&M and OCD as the creator and star of the sexyish new series Neurotica, which has just made its debut on IFC’s Comedy Crib. Jenny gave us some extremely intimate insight into what makes Neurotica (safely) sizzle…


IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. 

IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. You’re great. We should get coffee sometime. I’m not just saying that. I know other people just say that sometimes but I really feel like we’re going to be friends, you know? Here, what’s your number, I’ll call you so you can have my number! 

IFC: What’s your comedy origin story?

Jenny: Since I was a kid I’ve dealt with severe OCD and anxiety. Comedy has always been one of the ways I’ve dealt with that. I honestly just want to help make people feel happy for a few minutes at a time. 

IFC: What was the genesis of Neurotica?

Jenny: I’m pretty sure it was a title-first situation. I was coming up with ideas to pitch to a production company a million years ago (this isn’t hyperbole; I am VERY old) and just wrote down “Neurotica”; then it just sort of appeared fully formed. “Neurotica? Oh it’s an over-the-top romantic comedy about a Dominatrix with OCD, of course.” And that just happened to hit the buttons of everything I’m fascinated by. 


IFC: How would you describe Ivy?

Jenny: Ivy is everything I love in a comedy character – she’s tenacious, she’s confident, she’s sweet, she’s a big wonderful weirdo. 

IFC: How would Ivy’s clientele describe her?

Jenny:  Open-minded, caring, excellent aim. 

IFC: Why don’t more small towns have local dungeons?

Jenny: How do you know they don’t? 

IFC: What are the pros and cons of joining a chain mega dungeon?

Jenny: You can use any of their locations but you’ll always forget you have a membership and in a year you’ll be like “jeez why won’t they let me just cancel?” 

IFC: Mouths are gross! Why is that?

Jenny: If you had never seen a mouth before and I was like “it’s a wet flesh cave with sharp parts that lives in your face”, it would sound like Cronenberg-ian body horror. All body parts are horrifying. I’m kind of rooting for the singularity, I’d feel way better if I was just a consciousness in a cloud. 

See the whole season of Neurotica right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.


The ’90s Are Back

The '90s live again during IFC's weekend marathon.

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Photo Credit: Everett Digital, Columbia Pictures

We know what you’re thinking: “Why on Earth would anyone want to reanimate the decade that gave us Haddaway, Los Del Rio, and Smash Mouth, not to mention Crystal Pepsi?”


Thoughts like those are normal. After all, we tend to remember lasting psychological trauma more vividly than fleeting joy. But if you dig deep, you’ll rediscover that the ’90s gave us so much to fondly revisit. Consider the four pillars of true ’90s culture.

Boy Bands

We all pretended to hate them, but watch us come alive at a karaoke bar when “I Want It That Way” comes on. Arguably more influential than Brit Pop and Grunge put together, because hello – Justin Timberlake. He’s a legitimate cultural gem.

Man-Child Movies

Adam Sandler is just behind The Simpsons in terms of his influence on humor. Somehow his man-child schtick didn’t get old until the aughts, and his success in that arena ushered in a wave of other man-child movies from fellow ’90s comedians. RIP Chris Farley (and WTF Rob Schneider).



Teen Angst

In horror, dramas, comedies, and everything in between: Troubled teens! Getting into trouble! Who couldn’t relate to their First World problems, plaid flannels, and lose grasp of the internet?

Mainstream Nihilism

From the Coen Bros to Fincher to Tarantino, filmmakers on the verge of explosive popularity seemed interested in one thing: mind f*cking their audiences by putting characters in situations (and plot lines) beyond anyone’s control.

Feeling better about that walk down memory lane? Good. Enjoy the revival.


And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.


Get Physical

DVDs are the new Vinyl

Portlandia Season 7 Now Available On Disc.

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GIFs via Giffy

In this crazy digital age, sometimes all we really want is to reach out and touch something. Maybe that’s why so many of us are still gung-ho about owning stuff on DVD. It’s tangible. It’s real. It’s tech from a bygone era that still feels relevant, yet also kitschy and retro. It’s basically vinyl for people born after 1990.


Inevitably we all have that friend whose love of the disc is so absolutely repellent that he makes the technology less appealing. “The resolution, man. The colors. You can’t get latitude like that on a download.” Go to hell, Tim.

Yes, Tim sucks, and you don’t want to be like Tim, but maybe he’s onto something and DVD is still the future. Here are some benefits that go beyond touch.

It’s Decor and Decorum

With DVDs and a handsome bookshelf you can show off your great taste in film and television without showing off your search history. Good for first dates, dinner parties, family reunions, etc.


Forget Public Wifi

Warm up that optical drive. No more awkwardly streaming episodes on shady free wifi!



Internet service goes down. It happens all the time. It could happen right now. Then what? Without a DVD on hand you’ll be forced to make eye contact with your friends and family. Or worse – conversation.


Self Defense

You can’t throw a download like a ninja star. Think about it.


If you’d like to experience the benefits DVD ownership yourself, Portlandia Season 7 is now available on DVD and Blue-Ray.