If you’re nostalgic for the awkwardness of your teenage years – the social pressures, the joys of living under the same roof as your parents and the looming deadlines of college applications, all while trying to figure out who you are, what you want to do with your life, and why everyone seems out to destroy you – then may I suggest to you “Thumbsucker.” Though this is writer/director Mike Mill’s feature-length film debut, he has been around for a while, dividing his time between creating graphics for bands like Sonic Youth and lending a hand in other small films. “Thumbsucker,” based on the novel of the same title by Walter Kirn, is centered around Justin Cobb (played extremely well by the relatively unknown Lou Pucci), a seventeen-year-old debate team member who still sucks his thumb and is in search of a solution to his overwhelming sense of insecurity and restlessness.
The film addresses many topics that are not solely relevant to the timid and disenfranchised teens of the Pacific Northwest. Rather, universal issues such as the pain of broken dreams, problems of addiction and coming to terms with imperfection are all poignantly dealt with in a manner that is surprisingly less depressing than you’d expect from a movie with three Elliott Smith songs. Justin’s problems are paralleled by the issues dealt with by his equally dysfunctional and idiosyncratic family and friends, played by a surprisingly notable cast for such a small production.
Justin’s parents (played by Tilda Swinton and Vincent D’Onofrio) express their frustration at trying to help solve their children’s problems when they can’t even solve their own. As Justin attempts to rid himself of his troubles – through the use of both prescription and illegal drugs, as well as a hypnosis session overseen by his spaced-out orthodontist (played by Keanu Reeves in a role that seemed a perfect fit) – he eventually comes to the realization that no one has the answers, and maybe that’s OK. Justin’s debate coach (played by Vince Vaughn, for those of you apprehensive to venture out of the “Dodgeball”-esque genre) challenges him to use his potential and intelligence to achieve his goals. Overall, the film deals with serious issues and lets you realize that these are problems people deal with at all stages of life. Mill offers his audience hope without the grim severity that might leave you wanting to suck your thumb.