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Thumbs Up

I've always considered the whole concept of "adulthood" somewhat flawed. I mean really…how many of us are just big kids walking around in an "adult" costume doing our level best to pretend we're REALLY adults? Few films explore this idea more beautifully and whimsically than Mike Mills' brilliant feature directorial debut, Thumbsucker.

Justin Cobb (beautifully played by Lou Pucci) is a seventeen-year old thumbsucker much to the chagrin and consternation of his father, Mike Cobb (Vincent D'Onofrio) and the mystification of his mother, Audrey Cobb (Tilda Swinton). With a disconnected mother who is enamored with a television character and a father who is bitterly consumed with the failed dreams of owning a pro football store, is it any wonder Justin's a bit anxious? In lieu of returning to the womb, Justin chooses the next best thing -- thumbsucking.

Thumbsucker charts Justin's senior year journey in high school. In trying to wean himself off of thumbsucking, Justin smokes pot, makes out with a girl, joins the debate team, and effectively suffers his first midlife crisis a few years premature. One can't help but root for Justin who is endearingly flawed…as most of us are. Lou Pucci is brilliantly cast as Justin marrying a subtle anxiety with an innocent, adolescent naiveté.

Justin is well supported by an all star cast that brings their own unique dysfunctions to the screen. In addition to the aforementioned Tilda Swinton and Vincent D'Onofrio, Vince Vaughan does a solid job as debate coach, Mr. Geary, a man who has clearly not lived up to his own expectations and projects this on to Justin and the rest of his students. Keanu Reeves plays a bizarre, new age orthodontist in the midst of his own midlife confusion.

In some ways, Mills' Thumbsucker is reminiscent of some of Wes Anderson's work (The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou, The Royal Tennebaums) in that the characters inhabiting this world are inherently flawed, but unquestionably endearing. Mills uses Justin (and the rest of the supporting cast) to toy with the notion that anyone can truly be normal.

If you dig deep enough, you're bound to find that everyone's human and thusly, flawed in some way. Perhaps this is a more appropriate way to think of ourselves as opposed to seeking the false ideal of "normal" which everyone (including Justin) does in Thumbsucker. Mills manages to create a wonderfully entertaining character driven piece in with a message that should inspire many.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars