View Full Version : Thumbsucker

oscar jubis
10-15-2005, 01:16 AM
Newcomwer Lou Taylor Pucci, the actor playing the titular thumbsucking teen won top acting prizes at Sundance and Berlin. We'll be seeing him again. Guaranteed. Thumbsucker was directed by Mike Mills, who had previously made cool videos for Moby, Air and Pulp. His adaptation of a novel by Walter Kirn is an Amerindie dramedy about a suburban Oregon family. For my money, it's a better film than the overrated Junebug because it's not afraid of confrontation and digs deeper into its characters.

Pucci plays Justin, he's bright, insecure, and manages to hide his habit from friends. His parents (Vincent D'Onofrio and Tilda Swinton) prefer to be called Mike and Audrey, which belies difficult transitions into middle age. Mike seems to be still grieving the death of his pro football prospects due to a knee injury and Audrey's crush on a TV actor is downright juvenile. Justin's precocious 12 year-old brother resents him for being the center of attention. Outside the family, Justin's two major role models are played by Vince Vaughn, a supportive and somewhat indulgent debate teacher, and Keanu Reeves as an advice-dispensing, new-age orthodontist. Of course there's a girl, Rebecca; she's also in the debate club and appears to like Justin. Rebecca figures Justin is holding back and drifts away temporarily. Like several major characters, Rebecca will undergo one or more transformations, not atypical of a stage when people are busy figuring out who they are.

Mills does a good job of balancing the dramatic and comedic aspects of the material. Perhaps his greatest triumph, besides guiding the novice Tucci through his performance, is how Thumbsucker takes a wide range view of addiction. Thumbsucker seems to argue that we need to become aware that besides substances, addiction to behaviors, self-definitions, and even beliefs can be detrimental to our mental and emotional health.

Lamentably, there isn't much money invested in the marketing of this highly entertaining American movie. Consequently, the film has grossed only about half a million. Run don't walk if it's still playing near you, because it may be gone next week.

Chris Knipp
11-16-2005, 01:18 AM
I also found this one of the more enjoyable films of the year and I loved the whole cast, which includes some surprise choices such as Swinton, Vaughan, and Bratt, whom you wouldn't expect to see together in the same movie. Good point about the range of addictions.

From my website (http://www.chrisknipp.com/writing/viewtopic.php?t=465)

Thumbnail Review of 'Thumbsucker'

Thumbsucker, a first-time film by Mike Mills, is a successful coming-of-age story becuse of strong, restrained acting and a subtle attitude. Justin Cobb (Lou Pucci) is a slightly androgynous seventeen-year-old in an Oregon suburb who still sucks his thumb. His mom Audrey (Tilda Swinton) is shocked and his dad Jack (Vincent D'Onofrio) is disapproving; and his orthodontist Perry (Keanu Reeves) -- who fancies himself as a consciousness-raising therapist, tries to cure him with hypnosis evoking his "power animal" and making the thumb taste to him like Echinacea.

Perry's cure works but Justin is going nuts in the absence of his habit and his girlfriend Rebecca (Kelli Garner), an environmental activist, drops hiim because he can't be "open" with her and he drops out of the debating team. Then a school counsellor suggests his problem is ADD and Ritalin pumps him up into the star debater who wins the local championship.

Everything is lightly satiric but believable. The debate scenes are interesting and well done. Mr. Geary (Vince Vaughan), the debate coach, becomes Justin's new mentor. Vaughan, who's known for extreme performances, is restrained. Audrey is fascinated by the star of a TV series, Matt Schramm (Benjamin Bratt, funny but, again, restrained in a brief cameo), who turns out to have a drug problem. She becomes a counselor at a celebrity rehab clinic and comes into contact with him. Justin, meanwhile, has turned into a bit of a monster and quits Ritalin, realizing it's just speed. Justin's little brother Joel (Chase Offerle) injects pungent comments and has to play the normal kid in the family. Rebecca comes back into the picture and is now a stoner -- this is one of the ways Thumbsucker, which is based on a novel by Walter Kern, convincingly chronicles the rapid changes and seeming reversals high schoolers can go through.

Adults change too. Jack (D'Onofrio), who before his marriage to Audrey gave up hopes of pro-football due to a knee injury, has a dad's usual difficulty communicating with his son, but he maintains intimacy. Audrey realizes a dream by becoming a counsellor; Perry drops alll his visionary hype and gets more real with himself.

Thumbsucker consistently avoids obvious climaxes and easy laughs. There isn't a moment when the scenes are not smart and fresh. Justin comes down to earth, but his high-flying period led to a successful college application and he heads off to NYU. The trajectory may seem conventional but there have been many quietly choice moments of subtle acting and drole but true observation along the way.

Chris Knipp.