The pension book must be beckoning, since it seems the 1990s are now ripe for nostalgia - and this indie film that caused a stir at Sundance wallows in its period like a hippo in a mudbath.

The year is 1994, when the streets are hip not to mention hop and weed is the drug of choice to help New Yorkers through the long, hot summer. Although the routine - coming of age comedy angst - is like an old pair of slippers to indie filmmakers, the use of a fresh period setting pays dividends.

Luke Shapiro is the teen with troubles - the loneliest little boy in New York. His use of hip-hop patois has failed to make him a hit with the girls, so he spends his days selling grass in Central Park, using an ice-cream cart as a front, while lusting after Stephanie, the hottest chick in town. His problems don't stop at his front door, either, since at home his parents are facing money troubles. In the midst of this atmosphere he strikes up an unlikely friendship after trading spliffs for psychotherapy with shrink Dr Squires - who has enough of his own personal issues to fill a funny farm.

Jonathan Levine has created a very evocative atmosphere of 1990s New York - or at least that's how it seems to an outsider - but since Levine is himself a New Yorker, one imagines he has a pretty good first-hand recollection of the time period. He does want you to know that he is directing, though, and adds some unecessary embellishments - too infrequent to be a real flourish but obvious enough to affect the mood adversely. Plus, if you're looking for indepth female characters, forget about it. The women here are all one-note - the materialistic, ice-queen wife, the hippy chick, the use 'em and abuse 'em hottie.

What really hold the attention in this playful comedy, however, are the central perfomances. Ben Kingsley - who has been turning up the 'panto' to 11 in pursuit of various American accents lately - seems born to play the screwed-up shrink. Dabbling in every drug possible, he insists that Luke, by comparison, simply needs the love of a good woman - little realising the object of his young pal's affections is, in fact, step-daughter Steph. Kingsley manages to strike the perfect balance between humour and pathos, giving a sense of arrested development without slipping into caricature.

Josh Peck's Luke is an excellent foil to Kingsley, giving his character a sense of responsibility and depth despite his juvenile lusts and angsts. If the subsidiary characters - Olivia Thirlby as Stephanie, Famke Janssen as Squire's wife - are less well drawn than the central pairing, Levine makes up for this with a rapid-fire of witty one-liners tempered by a spot of soul-searching that rounds out the comedy with a touch of class.

Reviewed on: 11 May 2008
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A teen drug dealer swaps spliffs for psychiatry in the long, hot New York summer of 1994.
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Director: Jonathan Levine

Writer: Jonathan Levine

Starring: Josh Peck, Ben Kingsley, Famke Janssen, Olivia Thirlby, Mary Kate Olsen, Method Man

Year: 2007

Runtime: 110 minutes

Country: US

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