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“The Wackness”

“The Wackness” (photo)

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Many movies wax nostalgic for the good old days; “The Wackness” is the only movie I can think of that’s nostalgic for a time occupied by people who are themselves nostalgic about their own good old days. Though writer/director Jonathan Levine’s wistful coming-of-age film wants us to miss New York City as we knew it in 1994, the characters are all pissed off: their marriages are falling apart or their high school careers (and, thus, their lives) are coming to an end, and the new mayor is cracking down on drug use.

I guess the grass — the grass, man — is always greener. Luke Shapiro (Josh Peck) is an enterprising high school senior who makes up for his parents’ employment fuckups by dealing pot around his Upper East Side neighborhood. His aesthetic, much like the movie itself, is pointedly old school: cassettes instead of CDs, Nintendo instead of Sega Genesis. One of his clients is a hot girl named Stephanie (“Snow Angels'” Olivia Thirlby, occupying a similar role); her stepfather, a psychiatrist named Dr. Squires (Ben Kingsley), begins giving Luke free therapy sessions in exchange for dime bags. Soon, Luke and Dr. Squires are friends and Luke and Stephanie are more than friends and the film follows the progress of both relationships.

Regardless of whatever else it might also be about — vintage hip hop, the pleasures of getting high, jokes about Zima — “The Wackness” primarily presents a world paralyzed by immaturity. Luke scolds his parents for acting like children but dreads his own imminent entrée into adulthood (his self-professed life plan: graduate high school, go to a safety school, get old and die). Dr. Squires warns Luke against the dangers of anti-depressants, while taking them himself (when he’s not smoking pot with his stepdaughter’s boyfriend, of course). No one in the cast wants to act their age: the doctor’s wife, played by Famke Janssen, claims she’s almost 40; he has to remind her that she’s actually 42. Everyone in the cast is superb and, in particular, Kingsley, who seems to spend most of his time lately playing outsized villains in terrible junk (“BloodRayne,” “Thunderbirds”), but is at his best in small roles like this one.

Levine relies to heavily on ’90s pop culture callbacks and slang for easy jokes, and that’s probably what’s going to be used to sell the film to a wider audience. But a lot of that feels to me like a filmmaker trying to use irony and sarcasm to disguise what is, at its core, a very sincere and sentimental story. Levine’s emphasis on specificity — he goes to the trouble to rig up a bus that passes Luke with a “Forrest Gump” ad — nearly undoes his story’s inherent universality. Luke’s problems could manifest in any time period, and the best parts about “The Wackness” are the ones that could have been set a hundred years ago, or a hundred years from now. Those ideas — ones about growing up, growing old, getting fucked up — are a lot more vital and a lot more interesting than another reference to “Beverly Hills, 90210,” and they make you nostalgic for an era, when movies like these were the norm instead of the exception.

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The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at

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Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

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