Thumbsucker was a random movie selection I watched one night while doing some light drinking and hanging out with Strages. I knew nothing of the plot besides it involved a thumb-sucker and a Garden State seeming plot line involving an exploration of drugs versus a deeper meaning. I knew only a little about the cast, with the exceptions of Keanu Reeves and Vince Vaughn. I knew nothing of the director. I was basing this solely on finding a trailer and having the movie available.

Justin Cobb (Lou Pucci) is a thumb sucker at age 14. He copes with his issues by going to his quiet places and putting his thumb in his mouth. This drives his dad, Michael (Vincent D'onofrio), a washed-up ex-footballer who had to quit in highschooler due to a broken knee, crazy. His mom (Tilda Swilton) seems ambivalent with the situation. She works as a health-care worker (at least transfers over to be one during the movie). This sets up the opposing forces in Justin's life: the father who is torn between living vicariously through his son and yet not wanting his son to be more successful, and a mom who tends to be almost too accepting of the situation she is handed.

Justin's life grows in three areas. First, there is the spiritual growth led by Keanu Reeve's Dr. Lyman, a dentist and spiritual man. The second is in his debate team, lead by Vince Vaughn's Mr. Geary. Last, and most poignant, is his love for Rebecca (Kelli Garner). I guess I should say that there are four areas of growth, because the last one is his drug use to solve his problems (first on Ridalin, later some less legitamate substances).

The movie is time and time again about coping with things through some form of oral fixation: thumbs, lips, drinking, drugs, talking. There is an interesting juxtaposition in the character of Justin. While he is played off as being a confused and outcast teenager, a Rushmore or Donnie Darko, he actually seems to work well in social circles. Besides Rebecca, there is a whole slew of girls that he convinces into a borderline orgy, and he is so apt at carrying himself on the debate team that few can resist him.

And this is the movie's strength. It tells of these situations in a way that offers no obvious solution and gives no easily tied endings. This is not about solving Justin's life, but getting him from one confused stage to the next. It is most powerfully done in the story of Rebecca and her fall from innocence to something not-quite but not exactly corrupt either and is also handled powerfully in Dr. Lyman's shaken beliefs. Though they start as fictional stereotypes, they become some too deep to package up.

The movie has one huge flaw, though, and that it succumbs (almost a pun, huh?) to that quickly growing standard of Indie quirk. Indie movies, especially Indie "coming of age" movies, feel the need to focus on goofy lives with parents who take of crazy people, or cannot handle personal relationships and with friends who are just as odd or moreso than the principal characters. It has now gotten to the point that the quirks almost feel forced and, since it stands to reason that you can come up with more "abnormal" things than "normal" ones, borderline lazy. I have not read the book the movie is based on, by Walter Kirn, though, so I can only assume that most of the quirk comes from it and was more or less faithfully transferred to the movie.

And, as a personaly note, I would say that the movie's use of young breasts and strangely erotic subtext was effective, but seemed to be staged more to the uncomfortable than the comfortable. I may just be getting too old to enjoy young love, though.

Well acted. Well staged. Kept me interested and is something I would recommend. I do not plan to rewatch it any time soon, though, and do not think a lot of people would really like it. I am going to give it a 70% (above average, but not excellent).

Here is a link to the IMDB page about Thumbsucker.

This review written by W. Doug Bolden

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