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Thumbsucker (8/10)

by Tony Medley

I had four screenings to attend the day of the Thumbsucker screening. It was in the morning at Sony Studios with the others in the afternoon and evening. After seeing Thumbsucker I forgot about the others.

Even though the name and synopsis are big turnoffs, I wanted to see it, mainly because of the cast, Vincent D’Onofrio, of “Law & Order, Criminal Intent,” Benjamin Bratt, also of “Law & Order,” Keanu Reeves, as a new age dentist doubling as the thumbsucker’s analyst, and Vince Vaughn, as the thumbsucker’s debate coach. I thought, how could so many terrific actors sign up for a movie about a 17-year-old boy who sucks his thumb with a first time writer-director?

The reason is that it is a terrific script by Mike Mills. But there was still a problem. Despite the great cast, which also includes Tilda Swinton, the lead role is played by an unknown, Lou Pucci, in his first movie. To his credit, Pucci is as good as the rest of the cast.

Justin Cobb (Pucci) is the thumbsucker, and he really does suck his thumb, to the consternation of his father, Mike (D’Onofrio), a former football player whose career was cut short by an injury. His mother, Audrey (Swinton) is loving but somewhat bizarre with a crush on Bratt. Further, Mike and Audrey insist that Justin call them “Mike” and “Audrey,” instead of Mom and Dad, apparently so they won’t feel so old. So this isn’t your really normal family.

No, what it is, is kind of a modern day “Catcher in the Rye,” a story of the maturation of a teenaged boy. But Justin has to deal with a lot more than Holden Caulfield did, like drugs, for instance. We see Justin get initiated not only into marijuana, but also Ritalin, which completely changes his personality and turns him into a champion debater. He discovers that girls are not always to be taken at face value. He confronts the insecurities of his parents and learns that things aren’t always what they appear.

The main criticism I have is the hands-off approach given to the effects of Ritalin, and whether or not it should be given as easily as it is prescribed here. The effects on Justin are magical with no mention of the side effects or the pitfalls of drug treatment for someone who might just be different or senstive, not sick.

All the actors give interesting performances, living up to the promise of the unusual script. Reeves, Bratt, and Vaughn give their characters unique perspectives that add immeasurably to the enjoyment of the movie. The acting is superb. This is a thoughtful, entertaining movie with an exceptional cast, good script, and lousy title.