To the disappointment of his parents, teenager Justin Cobb (Pucci) is a thumbsucking introvert failing miserably in his school studies. Diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder, Justin is prescribed Ritalin and excels in the school debating team, but soon realises that his newfound 'normality' may be stunting his true personality.
The word ‘slight’ applies both to the build of its hero and the frame of its narrative, but Mike Mills’ feature debut eschews the overblown gravitas of most dysfunctional-family flicks and finds new depths in the shallows. Forming an unwitting adjunct to a slew of movies that came out of Sundance this year, along with Me And You And Everyone We Know and the upcoming The Squid And The Whale, Thumbsucker is about losers who only get mildly lost and who fumble with the formalities of growing up while not falling victim.
Mills’ gentle film is a creeper-upper, starting out a little wooden in its pasted-shaded credits but evening out into an unexpectedly endearing study of odd-duck syndrome. Unusually for a movie of this type, Thumbsucker straddles both sides of the teenage divide, as Justin not only passes through the pains of dawning sexuality but sees with growing maturity the life ahead, as lived by his daydreaming mother and frustrated father. This is the world where we find Vince Vaughn’s unexpectedly terrific turn as a too-cool-for-school teacher and, most surprising of all, Keanu Reeves’ hilarious New Age dentist. His bleary-eyed, shaggy-haired bewilderment embodies all the modest pathos Mills so movingly evokes.
A refreshingly low-key treatment of teenage trauma, with a lovely star performance and an unforgettable approach to orthodontics.