Published Oct 01, 2005The move from music video auteur to motion picture director has been one of the most satisfying transitions in the entertainment industry, as proven by the likes of Spike Jonze, Michel Gondry, Jonathan Glazer and David Fincher. Mike Mills, who also designed artwork for Air, Beastie Boys and Beck, is next in line for such a graduation and with his debut, Thumbsucker, passes with flying colours.
Based on Walter Kirn's novel, Thumbsucker's premise has absurdity written all over it, but Mills doesn't fall into the trap of making the type of film you'd expect someone like Harmony Korine to make. Instead, he gives the teenage lead character, Justin (Lou Pucci), real problems that merely result in him finding solace through sucking his thumb. Awkward and confused, Justin fails to woo the girl of his dreams and is misdiagnosed with A.D.H.D., which results in him taking medication that quickly transforms his introverted self into an overachieving debate team monster who preys on his opinionated opponents in order to feel important.
Justin's issues though suffer mostly because of his environment. His mother (Tilda Swinton) is obsessed with a TV star (Benjamin Bratt) and is continuously oblivious to those suffering around her, while his father (Vincent D'Onofrio) is a failed football star who hides his shame and fails to understand his son because of his unwillingness to open up. Supporting roles by the lovable Vince Vaughn, as a creepy and overzealous teacher, and Keanu Reeves, who finally shows his age as a whimsical, new age orthodontist who cures Justin of his problem, may seem like box office tools, but both prove how well they can work their talents on smaller scales. The highly emotive score and soundtrack by the Polyphonic Spree, which also includes the sad ballads of Elliott Smith, also works wonders, giving a blissful musicality to Mills's divine style.
Thumbsucker's tendency to quiver in teenage angst may fail to register with some who need another coming-of-age crisis like they need another Jude Law film, but thanks to the inaugural brilliance of Mills's colourfully imaginative vision and Pucci's gift for acting, this is a highly enjoyable film that deserves to be seen and appreciated for its inimitable qualities. (Mongrel Media)