Admirable Sundance-style indie film about a 17-year-old loner named Justin (appealing newcomer Lou Pucci) who quite literally still sucks his thumb. His well-meaning but frustrated parents (Vincent D'Onofrio and a sublime Tilda Swinton) determine that he suffers from some form of hyperactivity, so they get him hooked on Ritalin, which turns the sullen Justin into an aggressive speech and debate champion until he realizes that he's basically becoming a speed freak – and that's just the first two acts.
Though ostensibly just another coming-of-age movie, Thumbsucker covers a lot of ground, touching on issues as varied as drug addiction, infidelity, teenage horniness, family dynamics, the awkwardness of high school crushes, and, above all, the attempt to find The Answer to Everything
Of course what Justin finally figures out – and I don't think I'm spoiling any plot points here – is that there is no Answer, that life has its ups and downs and in the end you just go with the flow. Groovy, right? Well, it's not much of an update on Somerset Maugham's Of Human Bondage, and in fact Thumbsucker could well be called a remake of Maugham's classic novel. As in the book, you have a sensitive young man struggling to find the meaning of life as he tries to figure out what to do with himself professionally, while falling madly in love with a cruel young woman who thinks nothing of him. It's not as emotionally wrenching as Of Human Bondage, but in this case I was content to simply be entertained.
Music video director and former skateboarder Mike Mills, whose career path seems to be following Spike Jonze's except that Mills is also a graphic designer (which gets big points in my book), has, unsurprisingly, a strong visual style. But he's also turned out to be good with actors, adept at pacing a feature (editors Haines Hall and Angus Wall deserve credit as well), and able to bring potentially mawkish material to the screen with a dry eye and no small amount of creativity.
Thumbsucker isn't brilliant, but it's a damn sight better than Garden State and its ilk. It's also one of the truest depictions of a suburban teenager's life that I've seen on screen.