2005 – Mike Mills
Rated R: 96 minutes
Vault Rating: 8
Here’s one of Vault’s favorite new to video films of late.”Thumbsucker” sits high on a shelf at the rental store, so you can’t see it if you’re looking for a great drama. But there it sits all alone. Waiting.
Vault has just returned from a week at the beach. I hate the beach except that I get to stay inside and watch movies all week long. No comments about my life, or lack thereof, please. It is what I do.
Two movies stood out this week, “Thumbsucker” and “Mrs. Henderson Presents,” which we will get to later in the week.
In the present case, though, Lou Taylor Pucci portrays 17-year-old Justin Cobb with such fragile honesty that the casual viewer is yanked into his world. His father (Vincent D’Onofrio) would have been a pro football player but for a knee injury. Tilda Swinton is expertly cast as Justin’s mother as the two share facial traits and hair cuts, showing how the boy takes after his mother, who, we learn, would not have wound up with Mike had he not failed so. Justin’s kid brother, Joel, takes directly after his father.
These are just some of the pressures in a teenage boy’s life as he learns about himself and struggles to fit in not only in school but in his family’s complex reality. Retreating from certain pressures at home and school, Justin finds himself in a bathroom stall or curled up in bed taking solace in the only way he knows how.
Keanu Reeves is refreshing in a supporting role as a zen kind of dentist who has fixed Justin’s teeth once and doesn’t want to have to repair the damage again. Reeves’ character, Perry Lyman, may well be Ted Logan (“Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure” – 1989) grown up. In a strangely funny and touching sequence, the dentist tries hypnotism to break his patient of his habit with, shall we say, mixed results.
The film quickly turns, as a teen’s world often might, into the “what’s wrong with Justin show.”
Father deals with the problem in the way a football player might, by putting ink on Justin’s thumb. Counselors at school quickly categorize the boy and prescribe meds even while our hero tries desperately to get his (stuff) together sufficient to pursue the beautiful classmate, Rebecca (Kelli Garner).
What we learn in a close examination of these few people is that it is all about confidence and fitting in for everyone concerned. A luminous scene between Joel, who is seen symbolically running through Karate moves, and Justin, describes the film’s theme like a precision blow to the heart. The kid brother sees things plainly and spells it out for his long-suffering big brother.
There are little gems and flashes of brilliance in this surprising little film. This film sets off quiet little explosions of thought in its viewers. You are sure to relate in some way to this character or that because we observe in a private space much like the private spaces we all have.
And after such a close encounter, we are left somehow better for it. The movie leaves you feeling OK; maybe not uplifted, for that’s not the tone of this picture, but OKin the sense of being satisfied, of being just fine, thank you.
Hey! You’re welcome. And so are your comments.
You can lodge your protests by dropping us a line at email@example.com and we’ll put your picks and pans up for the world to see in the regular VaultMail feature. And until we all fit in … Enjoy!