Starring: Tilda Swinton, Vincent D’Onofrio, Keanu Reeves, Lou Pucci
Studio: Sony Pictures Classics 11482
Video: 2.35:1 enhanced for 16:9 widescreen
Audio: English Dolby Digital 5.1; French Dolby Surround
Extras: Audio commentary by writer/director Mike Mills, Conversation between Mills and novelist Walter Kirn, Behind-the-scenes documentary, Director’s Blog
Length: 96 minutes
A delight of a coming-of-age film which won Best Actor awards at both Sundance and the Berlin Film Festival for teenage actor Lou Pucci, plus allocades for Mike Mills, whose first feature this is. Strikes a fine balance between the painful awkwardness of youth and just plain bellylaughs. Justin is a 17-year-old high school senior with some issues. He is shy and not accepted by most of his peers (except for a cute girl in his debate class), in his semi-dysfunctional family his father seems to having a midlife crisis and his mother is hung up on a celebrity patient she is treating for drug addiction. He begins to try prescription drugs and grass to handle his anxieties, but when really pressed he retreats and sucks his thumb.
In the interesting extras director Mills talks about how difficult it was to get financing for a movie about a thumbsucker. He could have more easily raised cash for a story about someone who killed and maimed but no one wanted to deal with a simple non-damaging human-animal practice. Justin gets advice over and above the dental sort from Keanu Reeves, playing his orthodontist, who tries hypnotist on him to cure his affectation. When that doesn’t work Justin starts on a medication (probably Ritalin), and suddenly he comes out of his shell and becomes top dog on his debate team But his teacher tells him he has lost some of his good self in the process. He also learns his girl friend is not really that and has just been experimenting with him. In the end Justin stops struggling so hard to be “normal” and accepts himself as he starts out on the real journey of his life.
Portions of Thumbsucker were shot in Portland, Oregon though place is not identified in the film. The actors rehearsed for a couple weeks before they took up “residence” in the house built for the home scenes, and much of the dialog makes use of improvised comments encouraged by the director. So although the drama is not an edge-of-your-seat thing, neither is it satirical or TV sitcom kitsch. The viewer should have no trouble relating to this group of very real and believable human beings. I was surprised to see it was shot with the widest anamorphic process – 2.35:1 – (the same as Lawrence of Arabia) plus 5.0 Dolby Digital. So it will lose a good deal if it ever becomes available on video cell phones…My original impetus for viewing Thumbsucker was knowing that they did an entire day of shooting just a mile down the road from my house, at a toy store where Justin supposedly took a part-time job. Wish they had included a Deleted Scenes section in the Extras, because not a frame of that day’s shoot ended up in the final film! Fortunately the movie had a lot more going for it so that my disappointment was a minor one.
– John Sunier