Thumbsucker continues the tiresome trend of medicated-teen, clueless-adults dramas that are currently flooding the market. The difference is that its medicated hero wants to be medicated. And so will you, sometime before this pompous, frequently preposterous film is over.
The title digit-gobbler is Justin Cobb (Lou Taylor Pucci), whose infantile oral fixation gets on the nerves of his gridiron-hero dad (Vincent D'Onofrio). When Justin is diagnosed with ADD, he eagerly accepts a prescription for Ritalin. Whammo! The thumb stays out of the mouth, Justin's confidence skyrockets and he becomes a persuasive titan on his school's debating team. But is the drug making him a comer or a monster?
Filmmaker Mike Mills (not the R.E.M. bassist) displays a curious idea of casting. I was utterly confused by the relationship dynamic between Justin's dad and mom (Tilda Swinton) until I realized that the latter was supposed to be some form of trophy wife a description that hardly fits our dear, mousy Tilda. Elsewhere, Keanu Reeves plays a spiritually attuned dentist and Vince Vaughn strains against type as the debate coach. At one juncture, his character allows Justin to bunk with some girls on an overnight trip, buys them all booze and only balks when the hotel management then complains that the kids are making too much noise. WTF?
There's also an incredibly distasteful scene involving Benjamin Bratt's rectum and a whole mess of blood. But the film's biggest gaffe may be the way it undercuts its own anti-meds message. Justin's ultimate salvation comes from something he was only able to do while he was under the effects of Ritalin; the unintended but implied moral is that prescription drugs make any life turn out grand. And that just sucks.
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