My review of Thumbsucker was already running long, so I decided the break up the post. Part two will focus on the reviews of the film. If you haven’t seen Thumbsucker yet, I highly recommend you seek it out. The movie is well worth watching whether you suffer from thumb-sucking, social anxiety, or anything else. (Or if you just like good movies.)
Reviewing the Reviewers:
Chicago Sun-Times: Roger Ebert – 3/4 stars
“Sometimes parents act like parents, and sometimes they want to be your best friends. The ideal parents would be both, since either role in isolation can lead to unhappy teenagers. Since teenagers are by their nature unhappy anyway, perhaps this paragraph can end now.”
“He turns overnight into a confident, persuasive speaker.”
Roger Ebert, my favorite film critic (R.I.P.), gave Thumbsucker a positive review, although he did make an error in stating that Perry prescribed Justin the Ritalin. Ebert didn’t mention Justin’s shyness or social anxiety in his review, but simply labeled him an “unhappy teenager.” While not all teens are unhappy, I think a lot of teens (and people in general) feel like they are not normal. But since most everybody feels that way, feeling not normal is completely normal.
Reelviews: James Berardinelli – 3/4 stars
“A quirky character piece that could just as easily go by the title of Ritalin Nation, Thumbsucker boasts a strong character arc, some nice performances, and an understated message about the overprescribing of drugs to American youths.”
“Does Justin need the drug [Ritalin] to grow up, or does it become a crutch that delays him from finding his true self and propels him down a path that leads to unfulfilling experimentation? Mills poses the question but doesn’t answer it. He’s less interested in a debate on the morality of stimulants than he is in showing how Justin reacts to them.”
James Berardinelli focused on the prescription drug aspect of the film. I agree that the overprescribing of drugs to children is a problem in America today… Just as it was ten years ago in 2005 when the film was released… Just as it was in the 1980s when Walter Kirn’s novel was set.
“The drug unleashes a maniacal eloquence, which turns Justin from a timid, nebbishy kid into a forensic powerhouse and also, as those around him come to discover, a bit of a monster.”
“The characters, none of them blessed with much self-awareness, take themselves very seriously, and the comedy of their self-delusion is left for the audience to discover.”
“It manages to show how calamitous and out of control (and also how thrilling) growing up odd and ordinary can be, without wallowing in its hero’s occasional self-pity or condescending to him.”
A.O. Scott calls Justin “timid and nebbishy,” but also states that growing up odd is ordinary. The film did a good job of portraying Justin’s problems while still making him likable and relatable. Or maybe that’s just me, because I found Justin so much like myself.
“Pucci’s quiet intensity would set a mood of its own. Born in a place where open communication has never been a high priority, his character spends the film learning to speak up, and Pucci plays him as someone slowly beginning to understand the world around him and to recognize the much larger world around that. It’s a familiar story, but Mills and Pucci treat it as if it were the first time anyone had thought to tell it. They end up capturing a bit of what it feels like to live it, too.”
Keith Phipps’s description of Lou Pucci’s portrayal of the character of Justin is right on. Pucci did a great job of showing what it feels like to suffer from shame and anxiety. And how frustrating the process of trying to overcome those feelings can be.
“Justin… seems, at the start… a typical sullen suburban sap of a kid, of the sort we’ve come to dread from a thousand teen movies—the introvert who gets picked on or ignored, whose social skills are limited to bestowing sensitive gazes upon his scuffed shoes. But Justin quickly becomes both a more exaggerated introvert than we might have expected (which adds to the comedy) and a more understandable one (which adds to the pathos). Yes, he sucks his thumb as the most obvious sign of social dysfunction, but he has good reason to withdraw from the world.”
“Surrounded by adult wackos, he realizes his well-being rests solely with himself.”
“That’s what director Mills and author Kirn are getting at: There’s a thumbsucker born every minute, and Justin, a sweet, baffled kid, never seems to get the advice he needs at the moment it would do him the most good.”
I got upset when I read Tucker’s first sentence where he condescends shy introverts with poor social skills. But Tucker realized Justin’s character was deeper and more nuanced that the stereotype of that character portrayed in most teen movies. In the end, Tucker called Justin a “sweet” kid. I think shy introverted people with poor social skills can also be stereotyped in real life. Sometimes others fail to recognize the depth of a shy person’s thoughts and emotions.