Thursday, April 06, 2006

Overlooked DVD of the month - THUMBSUCKER

THUMBSUCKER is a movie that is less than the sum of its parts. But, oh, when it works it really does work! One of the most-(over)hyped movies of the independent cinema circuit in 2005, it received a comparatively limited cinematic release. However, it's now available on DVD and I take great pleasure in recommending it. The movie tells the story of a family living in contemporary Oregon. The thumbsucker of the title is the elder son - Justin Cobb, played by the wonderful debutant, Lou Pucci. Justin is a seventeen year-old who sucks his thumb, a source of great embarrassment to himself, his kid brother and his Jock father. He finds sympathy with his mother Audrey - played be the ever-brilliant Tilda Swinton - but she also has her own problems, namely a fixation with a sleazy TV star played with a straight face by Benjamin Bratt. Meanwhile, Joe has to endure his kid brother's scorn and heart break at the hands of the pretty girl at school. In an act of desperation, Justin agrees to be medicated with Ritalin. Perhaps one of the most beautifully played scenes shows Justin and Audrey sitting at a table as he takes his first pill. There is no dialogue, but their faces tell the story - Justin's hope to become a new person - Audrey's simultaneous happiness for Justin and fear for what the drugs might do.

I am not saying that THUMBSUCKER is perfect. At times the material seems familiar - just another earnest coming-of-age drama - and the pacing can be slow. Moreover, it rivals JARHEAD for the most pretentious closing scene in cinema. But THUMBSUCKER is saved from mediocrity by occasional blinding flashes of humour. I have never seen
Vince Vaughn so muted and yet so funny as when he, the teacher, gives his school debate team a pre-match pep talk. And I never knew that Keanu Reeves could give such an intentionally funny, not to mention subversive, performance. He plays Justin's orthodontist - a guy who is into "alternative therapies". Believe me. Keanu is funny, parodic and even faintly sinister. Genius.

THUMBSUCKER premiered at Sundance 2005 and went on cinematic release in the UK in October. It is now available on Region 2 DVD.

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