Three. That is the number of times that I have seen director Jonathan Levine’s Sundance Audience Award Winning film The Wackness in theaters. Eighty seven. That is the number of other films that I have seen this year other than The Wackness. This includes 30 other films at Sundance, 25 at SXSW and another 32 theatrical releases. And still, in this seemingly endless sea of cinema that is my 2008, The Wackness has risen to the top. It might not be #1 on my list by the time the year is over, but I have a very good feeling that it will be right up there near the top, where it has been since opening night of Sundance, now almost 4 months ago.
Unfortunately, though my passion for this film is still high, it has been very tough to get others, all of whom have not yet seen the film, on board. We all knew that this would be a tough sell considering the subject matter. It is a movie that is all about sex, drugs and rap music — that is the best I can come up with for a short description. But in reality, it is much more than that, it is a rich, often dark comedy about growing up, dealing with reality and getting your heart broken in the process. And it is set in 1994 New York, a very unique time and place, at least culturally. It’s a lot to take in, a tough thing to explain and as I can only imagine, a incredibly tough film to sell to mainstream America — a culture built on the quick hit, the sharp MTV editing and the big Hollywood star. The Wackness is about none of that, and that is what makes it such a beautiful film.
So when I say that I understand how daunting a task it has been for the marketing team at Sony Pictures Classic, the studio that purchased the film in the midst of its Sundance success, I mean it. So far they have explored, through now three trailers (two of which I will show you before we are done here), the love story between Josh Peck’s Luke Shapiro and Olivia Thirlby’s Steph, the awkward relationship between Shapiro and his psychiatrist, and they have established through spray can effects and bright colors that the film takes place in 1994 — and that’s it. Unfortunately, this is only scratching the surface, especially when you take these trailers one at a time.
This all led me to the realization that SPC might be headed in the right direction, whether they know it or not. In order to give people a true vision of The Wackness and put butts in the seats when the film opens on July 3, they are going to have to put the puzzle together over time. Inadvertently, as these trailers are released they seem to not only be getting better, they also seem to be unfolding more and more of the film’s allure. Allow me to break it down.
We start with teaser trailer #2, in which we see Luke and his shrink Dr. Squires, played by Ben Kingsley, in the midst of one of their offbeat, unusual therapy sessions:
Next, we move on to the first trailer, which focuses on the relationship between Luke and Steph, young summer love and a nod to some of the sexuality of the film:
Also, if you caught it, there was a little nod to the drug storyline in the film when Luke talks about his “cover” (Spoiler: Luke deals pot). Eventually, or at least we can hope, that more trailers down the road tie all of these storylines together, because therein lies the best part of this film — it creates this interesting, relatable and often funny world of Luke Shapiro and leaves its audience highly engaged and thoroughly entertained. And in reality, that is something you will never get from a trailer. But a series of trailers — that could be a different story, entirely.
This leads me to the final piece of the puzzle for Sony Pictures Classics — advanced screenings. I have heard that part of their strategy is to screen it a lot in between now and its release date and allow the word-of-mouth to carry it. This is probably the most intelligent strategy I have seen so far. If we look back at another big indie hit, Juno, we might remember that Fox Searchlight screened the hell out of the flick before it ever hit theaters. So much so that we knew it was going to be big long before they ever started selling tickets. And though The Wackness might be a little too edgy to ever be Juno, it certainly could find an audience through this type of marketing.
I know this because I have been to one of these word-of-mouth screenings. In fact, I had the opportunity to take 10 good friends with me. It was a group that included people with extremely diverse tastes in film. To be honest, I was more than concerned that some, if not many of them would come out of the film with a negative reaction. Thankfully, I was wrong. To my surprise the response was overwhelmingly positive. With that experience in mind, I am of the belief that The Wackness could find a very big audience, should the audience be led to it. Looking at the big picture, it appears that Sony Pictures Classics may just be stumbling onto the right path — or so I can only hope. I guess we’ll know more when the next trailer comes out.
The Wackness hits theaters on July 3rd.
Take a look at some of the officially released photos from the film below: