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THUMBSUCKER

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Lou Pucci, Tilda Swinton, Vincent DíOnofrio, Keanu Reeves, Benjamin Bratt, Kelli Garner, Vince Vaughn
Director: Mike Mills
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.0, French Dolby Surround
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Studio: Sony Home Entertainment
Features: See Review
Length: 96 Minutes
Release Date: January 24, 2006

ďJustin, are you ready to let go of your thumb?Ē

Film ***1/2

Thumbsucker is one of the most engaging and original films to ever depict the pitfalls of life as a teenager. But the character at the center of the film has even more obstacles to overcome than just getting through high school. Writer/director Mike Mills (not the one formerly of R.E.M.) has made a film that can easily be ranked among the finest films of its kind. I have a feeling that the likes of John Hughes and Cameron Crowe are smiling indeed.

Working from the novel by Walter Kirn, the focus of Millsí screenplay is 17 year old Justin Cobb (Lou Pucci), who is as odd and eccentric as any high schooler youíll ever come across. Heís a bright kid, but somewhat discontented. To make matters worse, he still sucks his thumb, a habit that heís never been able to break, and one that embarrasses his parents (Tilda Swinton and Vincent DíOnofrio).

Justin comes to realize that itís way past time to break the habit. Instead of going to a shrink, he turns to his orthodontist, Dr. Lyman (Keanu Reeves), who then tries hypnosis on him. The process ends up working, but then Justin finds himself not being able to concentrate in class. He is then prescribed Ritalin, for what his parents and doctor feel is simply ADHD.

It is by this point that Justin has gone through a drastic change. He is a much different student; an enthusiastic one. Itís a change in behavior that both amazes and concerns his debate class teacher, Mr. Geary (Vince Vaughn). Where as once Justin wasnít capable of delivering a rebuttal, he is now able to talk lengthy about any subject thrown his way.

As Justin experiences his sudden change, he becomes a lot more confident in pursuing the woman of his dreams, Rebecca (Kelli Garner), a fellow member of the debate team. There is also the matter of a situation unfolding at home, as momís new job (working at a rehab center) may be linked to a crush on a TV star (Benjamin Bratt) who has just been admitted. Then thereís Justinís dad, who has always felt inferior ever since failing at pro sports early in his life.

Thumbsucker is both a terrific character study and an outstanding ensemble piece. Here we have a noteworthy cast of actors doing some top flight work in small roles. Keanu Reeves and Vince Vaughn, the two biggest names on the roster, in particular demonstrate strong range. Watching Reeves now, itís simply a miracle to acknowledge that heís been able to overcome his previous acting mannerisms, because ever since The Matrix he has become a much better actor. Too bad no one ever seems to admit it.

And newcomer Lou Pucci, who is in nearly every scene of the film, shines in a breakthrough role. He fits the look and personality of an anti-social teenager flawlessly. And once the character goes through his certain change, he fits that personality as well. I think weíll be seeing a lot more of him in years to come.

Thumbsucker is a true delight. Those who truly appreciate observant character studies should not hesitate to discover this one.

Video ****

Sonyís anamorphic presentation is visually astonishing. The picture quality is nothing short of eye gazing in terms of crispness and image clarity. Colors are wonderfully natural, as well. And thank goodness that this is only available in its widescreen form, because youíd be missing a whole lot more of the picture otherwise.

Audio ***1/2

I really wasnít expecting much from this 5.0 mix, as this is mainly a dialogue-oriented piece. However, the film is frequent with music, particularly engaging tracks by the late Elliot Smith and The Polyphonic Spree, which truly deliver on a good sound system. Dialogue is wonderfully delivered as well.

Features ***

Included on this disc is a commentary track with writer/director Mike Mills and novelist Walter Kirn, a behind the scenes documentary, a directorís blog and bonus previews.

Summary:

Thumbsucker is indeed to true independent find of 2006. Itís a true work of pure originality, and the ensemble cast, along with Millsí strong directing make this a true must see.

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