Directed by: Mike Mills
Premise: A coming of age story of Justin, a high school student (Lou Taylor Pucci) who has not outgrown sucking his thumb. His doctor puts him on Ritalin and his performance in school begins to improve until it is thrown off by other events in his life.
What Works: Thumbsucker has great rise and fall in emotion and the film is able to create great contrast throughout its running time. In its lighter moments, Thumbsucker is very funny. Justin’s parents are quirky characters but they have a lot of reality to them, especially Tilda Swinton as his mother. One of the funniest performances in the film is, surprisingly, Keanu Reeves, who plays a dentist with New Age tendencies. Reeves plays it straight and this makes for some hilarious moments, even if they are self parody. Thumbsucker takes an interesting twist in that, as the Ritalin takes hold and Justin performs better academically and on the debate team, he transforms into a much worse human being. The disparity between these impressions of what it means to be healthy is very interesting and adds a layer of texture to this film.
What Doesn’t: Justin’s relationship with Rebecca (Kelli Garner), a former debate member he is sweet on, does not quite come together. As the object of Justin’s affections and his motivation to improve, their relations do not have the same satisfying dramatic arc of Justin’s relationships to his mother.
DVD extras: Commentary track, trailers, discussion between Walter Kirn and Mike Mills.
Bottom Line: Thumbsucker is an interesting and original take on the coming of age story. It reinterprets the genre for the contemporary age and presents the material in a new and artful way.
Episode: #104 (July 23, 2006)