2005, R, 96 min. Directed by Mike Mills. Starring Lou Pucci, Tilda Swinton, Vince Vaughn, Vincent D’Onofrio, Keanu Reeves, Benjamin Bratt, Kelli Garner, Chase Offerle.

REVIEWED By Kimberley Jones, Fri., Oct. 7, 2005

Let me for the moment put aside the illusion of critical authority and be frank with you: I don’t know if you’re going to like this movie. I know we critics come off like awful blowhards, pontificating loudly about how you should love what we love, and hate what we hate (see: Waiting ..., Austin Chronicle, Oct. 7, 2005), but let’s forget that for now. I repeat: I don’t know if you’re going to like this movie. It’s the kind of movie that lives and dies by a viewer’s own idiosyncrasies, and Thumbsucker found my soft spots for sure. Based on Walter Kirn’s 1999 novel, Thumbsucker details roughly a year in the life of Justin Cobb, an Oregon-based 17-year-old and lifelong thumbsucker. Along the way, Justin (Pucci) tries to kick the habit, gets diagnosed with attention deficit disorder, falls for a girl with a peculiar seduction technique, and fights – a lot – with his well-meaning but exasperated parents (Swinton and D’Onofrio, both wonderfully affecting in uncommon roles for them). Although Thumbsucker (from music video vet Mike Mills) never feels uncontrolled, its plotting realistically mimics a teenager’s adriftness and tendency toward hairpin-turn mood shifts. At 17, a person can rocket from bewildered to euphoric to murderous in a matter of moments, and Thumbsucker mostly captures the spirit of the age. There are, however, the occasional absurdities and plot coincidences that I suspect played more organically in the novel form; bigger-picture emotions and themes also have the feel of being only thinly traced from their literary origins. A recurring fantasy motif never pans out, and the score, by Tim DeLaughter’s Polyphonic Spree, is dangerously close to twee. Mills’ debut is imperfect, all right, and yet: There’s something there. I can’t pinpoint the moment in which Thumbsucker had me in its clutches, but it was revelatory, like waking up one morning and realizing the nice boy next door had slow-burned into that thing that keeps you up at night. The same might be said for Pucci’s Justin. His isn’t a showboating part – Justin is no Igby or Donnie Darko – but he quietly burrows in under the skin and stays put. Pucci – who won Best Actor accolades at the Sundance and Berlin film festivals – begins the film with a voice forever breaking, morphs into a falsely confident Ritalin freak, and ends somewhere else, beaten down but with thumb stuck firmly in mouth. Almost improbably, the heart swells. I wish him nothing but the best.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

More Mike Mills
This Is What Mourning Looks Like
This Is What Mourning Looks Like
'Beginners' sits shivah, postmodern-style and with profound humor and heart

Melanie Haupt, June 24, 2011

More Mike Mills Films
20th Century Women
Bening shines in this tender, heartfelt film

Kimberley Jones, Jan. 20, 2017

Christopher Plummer and Ewan McGregor play father and son in this lovely drama about what happens to both after the older man discovers near the end of his life that he's gay.

Kimberley Jones, June 24, 2011

More by Kimberley Jones
We Have an Issue: Giving Thanks
We Have an Issue: Giving Thanks
In this week’s issue, we celebrate 20 in 2020 working to make Austin a better, more equitable, more compassionate place

Nov. 27, 2020

Skip Big Box Shopping and Spend Your Black Friday Dollars Locally Instead
Skip Big Box Shopping and Spend Your Black Friday Dollars Locally Instead
Austin businesses need your support more than ever

Nov. 24, 2020


Thumbsucker, Mike Mills, Lou Pucci, Tilda Swinton, Vince Vaughn, Vincent D’Onofrio, Keanu Reeves, Benjamin Bratt, Kelli Garner, Chase Offerle

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

New recipes and food news delivered Mondays

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle