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Directed by Mike Mills.
Written by Mike Mills.  Based on a novel by Walter Kirn.
Starring Lou Taylor Pucci, Tilda Swinton, Keanu Reeves and Vince Vaughn.
Release Year:  2005

Review Date:  10/9/2005


Certainly one of the biggest hype flicks of the fall season, "Thumbsucker"--which made a splash at a number of film festivals earlier this year--ends up being an interesting performance-driven movie but never quite matches what should have been an great overall experience, thanks to the plotting of the second half of the movie.

Lou Taylor Pucci plays Justin Cobb, a 17-year-old that is navigating high school as badly as any awkward-looking kid might...especially one that is still sucking his thumb, a habit that is driving his father (Vincent D'Onofrio, strangely irrelevant here) up the wall and making his mother (Tilda Swinton) worry about his childish habit.  Justin seems to have major problems with concentration, and after explaining his problems one day to his whack job of a dentist (Keanu Reeves), the dentist tells him to explore his problems further, using a technique that ultimately doesn't work.  Justin then visits a doctor, who prescribes drugs for the adolescent that help his focus...and this leads him to better realize his potential in school, particularly on the school debate team, led by Mr. Geary (Vince Vaughn).  And of course, you can't forget Justin's interest in one of his fellow debate team members, Rebecca (Kelli Garner, soon to be in every new film next year), who clearly is not interested in Justin but plays hard-to-get as she explores her burgeoning womanhood.

This movie, in some ways, reminded me of "Garden State", a movie that ultimately made no sense to me plot-wise but had stellar performances from nearly everyone involved.  Pucci is fantastic in the lead, and his development from shy introvert to slightly-more-extroverted, quietly-confident smart guy is a beautifully subtle nuance, one that allows Pucci to do just enough to show you his character has made changes without going over-the-top to personify a kid that one day just figured out adulthood.  Writer/director Mike Mills, working from a novel written by Walter Kirn, gets good mileage out of very brief performances by Vaughn and Reeves, perfectly cast and asked to provide a couple of laughs to keep things rolling; Swinton and D'Onofrio are good as the parents, although I always expect more when I see D'Onofrio and his performance (or maybe it's just the role) slightly disappoints here.  I don't have a problem with the muted tone of his character's personality; it's just that I didn't like the way the father/son relationship in "Thumbsucker" is explored.  D'Onofrio, whose first major role was as Private Pyle in the classic "Full Metal Jacket", has been in dozens of films, but he always seems to do crazy better than understated, as noted by roles ranging from "The Salton Sea" to "The Cell" to "Men in Black" to "Strange Days."  Now that he's on "Law & Order: Criminal Intent", it's harder to find him on the big screen, but maybe this is a way to shift from all of those insane parts to settle into middle age.

The performances are mostly solid; my big problem with "Thumbsucker" is pretty much the last half-hour, once Justin has gone through his slight metamorphosis.  Sure, flicks these days like to squeeze a lot into their 90-minute running times but I thought leaving well enough alone would have allowed the film to run its course and shown us a great--certainly not perfect--coming-of-age tale of personal confidence, and including the family relationship and Justin's flirtations with Rebecca and drugs felt a bit much for me.  There are a couple of decent laughs in this sequence and maybe this adds something of a dramatic nature to Justin's plight as he unspools his hinted-at desires late in the movie.  But, I could have done with more of Mr. Geary and more interaction with Justin and his dad instead and been VERY happy with the end result.

As it is, "Thumbsucker" is certainly worth seeing, if anything to watch Pucci and Garner, two future stars who I am certain will be all over multiplexes soon.  And, even Keanu gets to steal a couple of scenes, continuing to build on a solid supporting actor resume as he moves past age 40. 

Rating:  Matinee


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Bellview Rating System:

"Opening Weekend":  This is the highest rating a movie can receive.  Reserved for movies that exhibit the highest level of acting, plot, character development, setting...or Salma Hayek.  Not necessarily in that order. 

"$X.XX Show":  This price changes each year due to the inflation of movie prices; currently, it is the $9.50 Show.  While not technically perfect, this is a movie that will still entertain you at a very high level.  "Undercover Brother" falls into this category; it's no "Casablanca", but you'll have a great time watching.  The $9.50 Show won't win any Oscars, but you'll be quoting lines from the thing for ages (see "Office Space"). 

"Matinee":  An average movie that merits no more than a $6.50 viewing at your local theater.  Seeing it for less than $9.50 will make you feel a lot better about yourself.  A movie like "Blue Crush" fits this category; you leave the theater saying "That wasn't too, did you see that Lakers game last night?" 

"Rental":  This rating indicates a movie that you see in the previews and say to your friend, "I'll be sure to miss that one."  Mostly forgettable, you couldn't lose too much by going to Hollywood Video and paying $3 to watch it with your sig other, but you would only do that if the video store was out of copies of "Ronin."  If you can, see this movie for free.  This is what your TV Guide would give "one and a half stars." 

"Hard Vice":  This rating is the bottom of the barrel.  A movie that only six other human beings have witnessed, this is the worst movie I have ever seen.  A Shannon Tweed "thriller," it is so bad as to be funny during almost every one of its 84 minutes, and includes the worst ending ever put into a movie.  Marginally worse than "Cabin Boy", "The Avengers" or "Leonard, Part 6", this rating means that you should avoid this movie at all costs, or no costs, EVEN IF YOU CAN SEE IT FOR FREE!  (Warning:  strong profanity will be used in all reviews of "Hard Vice"-rated movies.)

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All material by Justin Elliot Bell for SMR/Bellview/ except where noted
1999-2009 Justin Elliot Bell This site was last updated 01/08/09