The new American indie cinema adds another quirky, wistful member to its ranks with Justin Cobb, a young suburban hero who fits the type of pharmaceutically enhanced searcher-seer previously established in ‘American Beauty’, ‘Donnie Darko’, and ‘Garden State’. Justin (Lou Pucci) is 17 and still suckles his thumb, an intractable habit that incurs the wrath of his macho dad, Mike (Vincent D’Onofrio), who interprets his sensitive kid’s every shortcoming as a personal affront. Justin’s ‘holistic orthodontist’, Dr. Lyman (Keanu Reeves in a nicely self-parodic turn), tries hypnotherapy, urging Justin to invoke his ‘power animal’ – a deer in the forest, as it turns out – for help in casting out his organic pacifier. School authorities take a more prosaic approach, diagnosing Justin’s listlessness and indirection not as adolescence but as ADHD. Hopped up on Ritalin, Justin becomes a cocaine-tongued speed reader, exuding debate team prowess and a certain lack of inhibition about lying. Justin’s parents join him at the displacement activity group table, whether they realise it or not: Mike projects his embitterment about his truncated college football career onto his family, while mum Audrey (Tilda Swinton, pitch-perfect), a nurse who’s startled to find herself in early middle age, is obsessed with TV hunk Matt Schraam (Benjamin Bratt). Enriched by Joaquín Baca-Asay’s richly hued, blurred edged cinematography and the enveloping faux-gospel of the Polyphonic Spree, ‘Thumbsucker’ isn’t as sour as the 1999 Walter Kirn novel on which it’s loosely based, and is less beholden to sitcom-episodic set pieces. Warm, endearing, and well-acted, the film delivers a genial lesson: everybody has a thumb, be it prescription meds, celebrity, heaps of pot, or – perhaps the most insidious addiction of all – nostalgia.
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