Customer Review

5 of 10 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Thumbsucker seriously lacks dramatic heft…, 24 Jan. 2006
This review is from: Thumbsucker [DVD] (2005) (DVD)
Justin Cobb (Lou Pucci) is a moody and troubled boy. At seventeen, he lacks confidence, is prone to panic attacks, and has a short attention span. Most disturbing, is that after all these years, he still sucks his thumb, much to the alarm of his father, Mike (Vincent D'Onofrio). Mike, once a college football star now sidelined by a knee injury, lives with his lovely wife Audrey (Tilda Swinton) in a roomy home on the outskirts of Portland Oregon.
Audrey is a registered nurse obsessed with a TV heartthrob (Benjamin Bratt), whom she's determined to meet up with. She loves Justin dearly, but she's concerned about his lack of ability to fit in with other students. Mike is also concerned, but he remains emotionally distant, leaving Audrey to shoulder most of the family's burdens. And Justin is to self-preoccupied to regard his resilient and independent younger brother Joel (Chase Offerle) anything other than a nuisance.
His new age, stringy haired orthodontist Dr. Lyman (Keanu Reeves) suggests that Justin may be able to conquer his penchant for thumb sucking though hypnosis therapy and instructs Justin to draw strength from his "power animal." But it doesn’t work, and the young Justin becomes even more irascible. In desperation, the school board following the advice of Mr. Geary his debating coach (Vince Vaughan) puts Justin on the drug Ritalin.
Geary declares that Justin, though bright, is doing poorly in school because he suffers from attention-deficit disorder. Now swallowing back pills at a moments notice, Justin is transformed into a confident achiever, a master debater, articulate, fluent and conceited; he even turns into a debate champion. But his newfound success and self-belief comes at a price. Prone to bouts of anger, Justin not only alienates his family, but also must come to terms with his inner-demons and those of his parents. He eventually realizes that the "answer" is that there is no one answer.
Thumbsucker is well acted and nicely directed, with Pucci, who appears in almost every scene, giving the film a much-needed edge. There's also the commanding Ms. Swinton, whose formidable acting talents are more than well on display here. But the film seriously lacks dramatic heft; it plays Jason's self-discovery and ultimate redemption as some kind of profound insight, when in reality it’s all really quite banal and rather perfunctory.
Occasionally amusing and intermittently engaging, Thumbsucker just lacks the necessary bite to make it compelling entertainment. Whilst the thematic elements are well-intentioned with a main character who learns that "normal" is a myth and that people's flaws are what makes them human, the story is quite dull and for some reason has little emotional pull.
There have been so many movies made over the last few years about dysfunctional myopic middle-class families ensnared in constricted lives in conventional suburbia, the Chumscrubber being the most recent. About the only new angle here is the thumb sucking which is obviously a metaphor for psychological disturbances over identity issues and feelings of inadequacy.
There's no doubt that Thumbsucker has noble aims, and it has a nicely naturalistic feel that makes you really believe that this is a real family living today in suburban America, dealing with real issues, but the efforts towards satire whilst broaching serious subjects like the pressures put on young people today, and the need to conform, comes across as rather tired, stale, and obligatory. Mike Leonard January 06.
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