Thumbsucker

Thumbsucker

****

Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

Why do teens get to have all the angst? Sure, life is tough, but being a parent ain't no bed of the rosy stuff either and writer/director Mike Mills is keen to make the point. Suburbia may seem just peachy keen but dark things dwell in the minds of men, like, er, thumbsucking.

Justin Cobb (Lou Pucci) loves to indulge; it keeps him sane, helps him concentrate and provides comfort in times of need. Shame, then that Mike Cobb ("When I call him Dad, he feels old") thinks it is bottom-of-the-dustbin foul not to mention the fact that dentist bills are going through the roof.

Ol' Mike's not very good at the communications game, either, and things with mum Audrey (Tilda Swinton) aren't as hot as they might be. She's facing up to losing her son to college and hopes a job move to a celeb rehab centre may give her the excitement she craves.

Justin tries everything to give his thumb the elbow and finally turns to his guru-cum-orthodontist (Keanu Reeves), who offers to hypnotize away the need. But was the thumbsucking really so much of a problem? And once it is gone, how will Justin do all that comfort, sanity and concentration stuff? It's medication time, folks, and you know the results won't be pretty.

Everyone is coming of age in this drama. Mike, played effortlessly by Vincent D'Onofrio - who needs to be given more fantastic roles like this and quick - is still nursing a missed opportunity from when he was a teen, humping it like an albatross into every failed conversation he has with his son. Audrey, meanwhile, may be a rock for her boy, as well as at work, but she's crumbling at the edges. And amongst them all, marveling wonderment at everyone else's excellent adventure, is Keanu, playing the "whoa, dudes" card for all it's worth.

Thumbsucker is accomplished in almost every respect. The acting from Pucci (who won an award at Sundance, as well as picking up Best Actor at the Berlin Film Festival), D'Onofrio and Swinton are note perfect. Somehow, this film also finds room for great ensemble performances, from even the comic sub-plot characters, such as Benjamin Bratt as an addiction-battling TV star. The direction is taut and inventive, while the script manages that rare trick of being both intelligent and funny.

Despite the fact that studio bosses will probably hoover this up and spit it out with bobby socks, a homecoming queen smile and a Teen Comedy label, it has a lot more to offer than that. The realistic fragility of the relationships and the fleshed out mum and dad figures should ensure it appeals to a much wider audience.

Hit at the box office? Maybe. Cult hit? You can bet your angst-ridden teen's life on it.

All this, plus the best T-shirt slogan you're likely to see this year. Remember folks: "club sandwiches not seals".

Reviewed on: 20 Feb 2005
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Teenager from the 'burbs attempts to quit suckin'.
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