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Philly Film Fest 2008 – Day 7: That ’90s Movie

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Electile Dysfunction is the last political doc I'll watch at the fest. I promise. I can quit anytime I want.

The locally produced doc from directors Joe Barber and Mary Patel, who were in attendance at the world premiere with about half the people interviewed in the film, uses the 2006 Senate race between Rick Santorum and Bob Casey as a spine to discuss the ins and outs of political campaigns and how they have little to do with anything relevant to voters. In fact, the project was originally supposed to focus solely on the race, but the directors found the subjects to be "not very compelling."

Interviews are tight, revealing and include an interesting swath of political consultants, spin doctors, celebs, press, volunteers, and civilians (fellow Philly blogger Jeremy was interviewed for the film, but didn't make the cut). There's also some choice archival "How to Vote" style filmstrip footage and old political commercials, including a classic pre-Congress Arlen Specter spot. Still, even at 90 minutes, it does start to wear thin.

Next came the "Mystery Film" that was teased once the festival lineup was announced. All we knew was that it was a hit at Sundance. I guessed The Wackness and I guessed right. Probably the most useless talent I can imagine, but, there it is.

I had mixed feelings going in. I'd heard buzz, but it was the kind of buzz that was "Hey, everybody's talking about this picture!" and not "Hey, everybody thinks this is a great film." So I was wondering if it would be overrated.

It's not really. But it's not the next Rushmore or anything, either.

I bring up Rushmore because this is another in a long line of maladjusted-youth-coming-of-age stories which are common indie writer/director flicks because (a) they are personal and (b) they are relatively cheap. I also mention Rushmore because once again we have an older man going through a mid-life crisis (Ben Kingsley in an accent of unknown origin) pseudo-mentoring a precocious youth (Josh Peck, rockin' a Peter Petrelli 'do). The slight difference here is that the youth is paying the mentor for psychiatric advice by giving him pot.

Writer/director Jonathan Levine (helmer of the meant-to-see-it All the Boys Love Mandy Lane) invests The Wackness with plenty of style, a distinct aesthetic and a kick-ass soundtrack which capitalizes on the film's 1994 setting. Biggie and A Tribe Called Quest get their due.

The setting works for the flick as often as against it. For every sly cultural reference, there's another that hits you over the head. I realize the characters live in New York, but do they have to mention Giuliani that often?

Overall, though, the screenplay is the film's greatest asset, peppering a fairly routine story with choice dialogue and situations.

Oh, and Mary-Kate Olsen gets her indie cred on. Seriously.

Next: Jackie Chan and Jet Li are finally in the same… kid's film?

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