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THUMBSUCKER (director/writer: Mike Mills; screenwriter: novel by Walter Kirn; cinematographer: Joaquin Baca-Asay; editors: Haines Hall/Angus Wall; music: Tim De Laughter; cast: Lou Pucci (Justin Cobb), Tilda Swinton (Audrey Cobb), Vince Vaughn (Mr. Geary), Vincent D’Onofrio (Mike Cobb), Keanu Reeves (Dr. Perry Lyman), Benjamin Bratt (Matt Schramm), Kelli Garner (Rebecca), Chase Offerle (Joel Cobb); Runtime: 95; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Anthony Bregman/Bob Stephenson; Sony Pictures Classics; 2005)
So unexciting that it almost made me want to suck my thumb or whatever to get over sitting through such a heavy going and dull film.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Mike Mills (“Paperboys”) directs this quirky indie wannabe Donnie Darko pic. It’s based on the novel by Walter Kirn.

Soft-spoken 17-year-old Justin Cobb (Lou Pucci) lives in a comfortable suburban house, in Beaverwood, Ore., with a bratty younger brother (Chase Offerle), a failed-jock macho dad, who is a store manager (Vincent D’Onofrio), and a sweet but distant RN nurse mother (Tilda Swinton), who works in a homecare setting treating the rich and famous. The insecure and confused lad still sucks his thumb when stressed-out, which upsets dad, still not over that his possible pro football career ended with a school injury, while the middle-aged mom escapes reality obsessing over a fantasy romance with TV hunk soap star Matt Schraam (Benjamin Bratt). Justin’s hippie ‘holistic orthodontist,’ Dr. Lyman (Keanu Reeves), who he sees because sucking his thumb puts his front teeth out of alignment, tries hypnosis as a cure to the thumb sucking; dad smears an antidote cayenne-pepper cream on the thumb, while the school authorities react to his poor grades as being related to Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) and the senior gets prescribed Ritalin to help him next year when he attends college. The drug works and the kid now goes from being tongue-tied in Mr. Geary’s (Vince Vaughn) debating class to being the star debater. But the drug is soon viewed as an artificial cure, as it keeps him high and never experiencing life’s lows and real moments. So Justin goes off the med, to find a more natural cure.

Not satisfied with any of the cures, Justin on his own tries relieving his adolescent stress by going out with his idealistic environmentally concerned debating class classmate Rebecca (Kelli Garner), who introduces him to pot and sex. The kid meets with some success and life becomes bearable again, but it does not cure his thumb sucking problem.

In thiscoming-of-age movie, all the characters are viewed as rendered clueless by their ongong adolescent fantasiesand we are led to believe that it is only through ‘knowing thyself’ and not through medical cures or pleasure highs can the problem, so to speak, be licked.With the filmmaker’s belief, as uttered by the guru dentist, “that there’s no magical solution, as the trick is living without an answer and not worrying about what is normal.” The pic in a gentle way delivers its life lessons, which I can’t vouch how sound they are but they sure sound comforting–even as it ends with the kid going cross country to a NYC college and still sucking his thumb, but at least now smiling about it.

The ‘new age’ film seems so sensible, but was so unexciting that it almost made me want to suck my thumb or whatever to get over sitting through such a heavy going and dull film–no matter how well-intentioned it was and how well-performed.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”