Thursday, November 17, 2005

Suck My Thumb. But Look At Me When You Do It. And Watch Your Teeth.

2005, USA
Mike Mills

Goddammit, I’m sick of this. This movie cost me ten dollars, and all I saw was a bunch of neurotic quirks brought to boring life like late-period Woody Allen. When, exactly, did ‘quirky’ become the new black in Hollywood? And if it is, then what’s the new ‘shut the fuck up, I don’t need to see another movie about a new-age dentist, or a hitman who recites Bible verses, or a crime lord obsessed with dildos’? I recognize that it’s tough to get a script made in L.A., especially if the studio execs think that it’s been seen before. But the answer to that particular problem is not writing something that’s fresh and new only because it couldn’t possibly exist. It seems every neophyte writer read the same damn article in June’s Scriptwriting Basics about tailoring roles to catch a star’s attention, but if the attention of the star you crave can only be caught via shiny colours or characters with quaint but strange hobbies like beekeeping or model trains, then maybe they’re not the kind of person you’re going to want in your movie. They’re probably going to take up a lot of your time trying to get you to sit down and discuss Biblical parallels in Boondock Saints. Write a movie comprised entirely of roles like that, and you’ll end up with a film full of weird people I don’t care about.

Dude. It's in Latin. Just like Jesus.

Which is exactly what Thumbsucker is. Based upon the equally irritating novel by Walter Kirn, the film is about a 17 year old high school student who still sucks his thumb. This problem is dealt with aggressively by his sports store manager father, passively by his nurse mother, who is obsessed with a cheesy TV cop show star, and strangely by his orthodontist, who councils the young boy to find his spirit animal through hypnosis. Annoyed yet? Keanu Reeves plays the orthodontist, either deliberately poking fun at his surfer longhair image or too stoned to play against type, and newcomer Lou Taylor Pucci plays the thumbsucking loser. And loser he is. He goes from loser slacker to loser ritalin-nerd to loser pothead through the course of the movie, which isn’t so much a character arc as it is a degenerative slide into mental illness and drug dependency. And make no mistake, I consider marijuana abuse both of the above. Anyone who allows themselves to fall under the spell of the drug responsible for the entire Ween catalogue and the 60s output of Jack Nicholson is clearly unbalanced, and requires serious treatment and probably a bath. I suppose, if I were forced to analyze it, that Thumbsucker is about the use of metaphoric crutches as coping mechanisms. But, I don’t care enough about anyone in the movie to apply my left brain long enough to overcome my right brain screaming about how I could have learned the same lesson by watching the Native American hobos on my street corner throw up anti-freeze and saved myself the ten dollars.


Anonymous Je Suis said...

I admire the blazes out of Kaufmann and the Anderson/Wilson combo (always excepting Zissou and Human Nature for being such cardboard emptiness), but I regret to say, their successes have ruined the Hollywood script. Um, more than it was ruined before.

11:15 p.m.  
Blogger Fatman said...

Ash, not to be too picky but your link to 'crime lord obsessed with dildos' should be to Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and not Snatch, similar though those movies may be.

11:44 p.m.  
Blogger Valet Attendant said...

I blame Quentin Tarrantino for being a thief and talentless. Homage my ass. If I wrote a book stealing all the best parts of the books I love, it would be called plaigarism. And the witty dialogue, it's damn annoying, and not at all witty. This crap was happening way before Kaufman showed up. And Wessy boy has lost it since he stopped writing with Wilson. Zissou was a souless and empty film.

3:18 a.m.  
Blogger Ash Karreau said...

Je Suis - I liked Zissou, but you're right, their influence has had a negative impact on the Hollywood indie film. Just look at the poster for Thumbsucker.

Fatman - I can't tell those movies apart, and refuse to make the effort to.

A Lowly Valet - I agree. I don't think Tarantino is talentless, I just find him extraordinarily annoying about what talent he does have. I think he's a great pulp director, the kind of filmmaker that should pass under the radar in his time but be recognized years later as an influence and a talent, like Sam Fuller or Don Siegel. The fact that he's extraordinarily popular has catapulted him to feats of excess that make my skin crawl and my eyes roll.

9:01 a.m.  
Blogger Jerk Of All Trades 2.0 said...

wow, I can tell that you really hated this movie. Usually I can tell that you at least enjoyed ripping on a film, but this time it was not the same.
I shall file this movie under....fuck it's not even worth filing. Nevermind.

10:18 a.m.  
Blogger Ash Karreau said...

It's not so much that I hated the film. There was stuff to like, like Vincent Dinofrio's character and performance, but the stuff I liked faded from memory very quickly, leaving only severe annoyance in its absence. Also, shitty dramas are a lot easier to hate than, say, shitty action films or shitty porno, because nothing blows up or blows to break up the parts that stink.

11:04 a.m.  
Anonymous Rin said...

I hated it. It was fucking boring. What the fuck was the message meant to be? It was like Requiem for a Dream for 5 year olds.

Not that RfaD had morals for someone much more than 5 years old.

2:18 p.m.  
Blogger Sam Kahn said...

I still want to see this movie.

The poster looks like the I Heart Huckabees poster and marketing in general... trying to get subliminal association from the audience, I guess.

Also, I didn't find Zissou to be souless and empty at all. The film definitely had a heart, particularly in the transformation/journey of Zissou's character.

8:22 p.m.  
Blogger Ash Karreau said...

Rin - Requiem For A Dream had all kinds of important lessons for 5 year olds, like drugs will make your TV talk to you. Sounds like fun.

Sam - Zissou I find inferior and less cohesive than Tenenbaums, but it's still a good film, because it has pirates.

8:41 a.m.  
Blogger Sam Kahn said...

Yeah, there's no question that Tenenbaums is a better film.

12:52 a.m.  
Anonymous B-Rian said...

Amen. I find myself disappointed at my sister, who, in addition to not really being my sister, but, being 15, being far too old for someone such as myself, seemed to be on a shocking path to, if not complete film literacy, at least ahead of most of America (She was 12, and she'd ask if she could borrow "Requiem for a Dream" or "Donnie Darko", and then I would listen to her pee with such amazing power and speed that I almost wanted to go with her just to marvel at the sheer logistics of it), and now it seems she's fallen into a rut of Cutesy Indie Flicks such as "Thumbsucker" and "Garden State"(if Zach Braff isn't wearing scrubs, I don't want him to waltz across my eyeballs), although thankfully she has thus far avoided the horrendous-written (and, of course, Oscar-winning) "Little Miss Sunshine".

Isn't it strange that a review of "Berlin: Symphony of a Great City" led me here?

5:53 a.m.  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As an adult thumb sucker I identified with many parts of the movie. Perhaps, even if you don't suck your thumb, you can identify too?
It's a funny thing, our private "quirks": how human they are and even common, yet needing to be hidden due to some social rule. And still, while hidden, they display themselves in, sometimes, humorous, sometimes not so humorous poses.
Perhaps that's why some of you are uncomfortable with the film; it may remind you of things you'd rather not want to face.

2:11 p.m.  
Anonymous the sayer of the truth said...

quirky is just another way of saying crap, all american indie, (not raiders, you silly sod), movies are garbage and pretentious highbrow eletist hogwash with minimal entertainment value, however, having said that, i should of course point out that they are still a 1000 times better than any of the completely unwatchable bullshit produced by that abomination known as the british film industry, i just thought i`d remind you of that because you americans do still seem to have that annoying habit of sometimes biting the hand that feeds you, you know, you dont seem to realise that you`re the guv`ners, and that all films made outside of america, (especially the british made ones), are a laughable joke in comparison to the breathtaking magnificence of the mainstream hollywood product.

4:04 a.m.  

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