The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus


“Thumbsucker” gets two thumbs up

“Thumbsucker,” from first-time film director Mike Mills, is easily the best independent film so far this year. Based on the novel by Walter Kern, “Thumbsucker” has it all: an engaging story, fascinating characters, a talented cast, intriguing visuals and a crucial message.

The film follows Justin Cobb (Lou Pucci), a 17-year-old who still sucks his thumb. He wants to stop because he knows that the habit affects his family, his love life and even his identity.

Meanwhile, Justin’s parents struggle with their own issues. His mother, Audrey (Tilda Swinton), is similar to Justin in that she struggles with her shortcomings, but instead of thumb sucking, she hides from reality by obsessing over a television hunk (Benjamin Bratt) who isn’t all that perfect himself. Justin’s father, Mike (Vincent D’Onofrio), is plagued by a college football career that was shot down by a knee injury and thus hides behind a tough demeanor.

The film really kicks into gear when Justin’s New Age orthodontist (Keanu Reeves) uses hypnotism to help Justin stop sucking his thumb. Unfortunately for Justin, the hypnotism works and he is left without an outlet for his frustration with life.

However, he becomes an instant success at school, especially on the debate team led by Mr. Geary (Vince Vaughn). But when Ritalin and academic success don’t solve all of Justin’s problems, he becomes involved with the debate captain turned stoner, Rebecca (Kelli Garner).

Flawed characters and heart-wrenching situations combine in this beautifully told film. In the end, it is only through accepting themselves that Justin and his family find happiness.

Expect to see director Mike Mills helming another project soon. His handling of the source material is masterful, as he creates reality through improvisation.

“The improvisation during rehearsals was the backbone of the entire movie. We got rid of scenes and we made completely new scenes,” said Pucci.

Mills told his cast to “stop acting” on set, thus creating nuanced characters, believable relationships and realistic interactions.

The acting in “Thumbsucker” is top notch across the board, from seasoned veterans like Tilda Swinton, who turns in her usual greatness, to the surprisingly delightful Keanu Reeves, who shines in his role as the hippie orthodontist.

However, the film rests on the shoulders of young Lou Pucci in the title role. Pucci has received critical acclaim for his honest portrayal of Justin, garnering acting awards at Sundance and the Berlin Film Festival.

Of these honors, Pucci said, “It felt really awesome, but at the same time, I felt undeserving. I mean, this is definitely THE time to be humble. It’s something I’m having to deal with.”

Pucci, on his first foray into film, identified a great deal with his character. “At seventeen, life is all about girls, so I definitely identified with the parts with Rebecca. That’s what drew me in. I also identified with Justin’s leaving home for the first time. I mean, the first plane ride I ever took was to the audition for this movie,” Pucci said.

“There are no right answers. Experience is life,” Pucci said, when asked what the audience should learn from the film.

Featuring a soundtrack from Dallas’ native The Polyphonic Spree, a well-written story and a stellar cast, “Thumbsucker” is a wonder to both listen to and watch.

Catch “Thumbsucker” at the Angelika Film Centre in Mockingbird Station, starting Sept. 30.

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