"Seeking Solutions in All the Wrong Places"
For such a quirky story and title, THUMBSUCKER is a very entertaining and sometimes touching comedy about modern teenage angst. It has some morally shaky and unsound content, however, so MOVIEGUIDE® must give the movie a heavy warning.
Based on a novel by Walter Kirn, the story focuses on 17-year-old Justin Cobb, a quiet but moody teenager who still sucks his thumb. This habit worries his mother, irritates his father and threatens his schooling. One day, Justin’s New Age orthodontist hypnotizes him to get rid of his thumbsucking habit. The habit goes away, but the New Age hypnosis makes Justin feel even more upset, and he storms out of his debate class.
Although his debate teacher is skeptical, the school counselor prescribes Ritalin for Justin. Suddenly, Justin is transformed into a super bright, energetic student who leads the debate team to victory after victory. The situation gets out of control (Ritalin, after all, is a form of speed, as Justin’s wise younger brother finally tells him). Justin quits taking his pills and loses an important debating match. He then gets involved with Rebecca, a pretty classmate who got fed up with Justin’s meek, moody and secretive demeanor when they were close friends and started hanging out with the pot-smoking crowd.
Eventually, Justin learns that Rebecca is no longer really interested in him. After experimenting with pot and sex, their relationship ends badly, but the breakup becomes a kind of epiphany for Justin. After several other inspiring epiphanies with his parents, his orthodontist and a drug addicted TV actor who’s a patient at the drug clinic where his mom works, Justin finds his own direction. He also realizes that there are no easy answers. Or, as his orthodontist, who now seems to be a humanist philosopher, tells him, “The trick (to life) is living without any answers, I think.”
THUMBSUCKER is frequently funny. For example, the fact that Justin gets heavy, unsolicited philosophical advice from someone who’s really just a glorified dentist is hilarious. Young Lou Pucci gives an excellent performance as Justin. This character and his story draws the viewer in and doesn’t let go. The viewer sympathizes with Justin’s predicaments, even when laughing at his situation and even when Justin makes bad moral choices. The rest of the cast is also excellent. Keanu Reeves provides a scene-stealing cameo as Justin’s orthodontist.
Some Christian and biblical guidance could have redeemed this movie, but, as it is, the worldview is eclectic and contains New Age, Romantic and humanist elements. The movie also has some politically correct, environmentalist content that is false and/or could lead to erroneous conclusions, especially if the viewer is gullible or if the viewer already has false, preconceived, leftist positions on social, political, economic, and environmental issues. The movie also contains strong foul language, a bloody late-night scene in a drug clinic, teenage drug and alcohol use, and teenage sexual content.
On the positive side, the movie pokes fun at New Age solutions and psychotherapy, especially the kind of counseling that forces psychosomatic drugs down children’s gullets. There are also some extremely touching, uplifting scenes between Justin and his parents, despite the problems between them. This list of bad and good is not exhaustive. Basically, however, THUMBSUCKER hovers between an Extreme Caution (-2) and an Excessive (-3) MOVIEGUIDE® rating. So, to err on the side of caution, it receives an Excessive.
(PaPa, Ro, H, B, E, PC, AP, LL, VVV, SS, N, AA, DD, MM) Strong eclectic pagan worldview with New Age pagan elements (man talks about meditating on one's "power animal"), Romantic elements (movie seems to teach that human beings are basically good), humanist elements (movie concludes that the trick to life is to live as if there are no easy answers, especially no ultimate answer), and moral elements such as parents show concern for their troubled teenager, also teenage girl and her friend share interest in environmentalist ideas and movement, including Greenpeace and the Sierra Club, plus some other politically correct content as students in debate team do formal and informal debates and movie suggests that the American middle-class existence is warped; 19 obscenities, two strong profanities and three light profanities; one very strong gory scene of medical violence where drug counselor pulls condom full of cocaine from patient's rear end and teenager gets angry at his meddling orthodontist and runs his bicycle off a trail during a race; implied foreplay and oral sex between teenagers and teenagers strip to underwear a couple times; teenage girl in bra and upper and rear male nudity; teenage alcohol use and teacher buys beer for teenagers in debate team who are away from home; smoking, school counselor prescribes mood altering drugs (including Ritalin) for troubled teenager, teenager pops these pills all too frequently (resulting in hyper behavior), teenagers smoke marijuana, and adult in drug clinic sneaks in a small bag of cocaine but almost dies before he can use it; and, protagonist's family and school life lack direction and, hence, are too negative, movie fails to consider Christian or biblical solutions to one's character problems, and movie suggests that people are psychologically fragmented, a notion that can be interpreted in a non-Christian, unbiblical way or which can be seen as being a consequence of people's sinful nature.
THUMBSUCKER focuses on 17-year-old Justin Cobb, a quiet but moody teenager who still sucks his thumb. As Justin tries to quit this habit and get some direction in his life, the adults in his life prescribe first hypnosis and then Ritalin for his problem. Although the Ritalin makes Justin successful at school and on his debate team, he stops taking the medication when he realizes it's making him much too hyper. Justin takes up with his high school crush, who has started hanging out with the pot-smoking crowd. After several epiphanies, Justin finally finds direction and realizes there are no easy answers in life.
THUMBSUCKER features good performances from Keanu Reeves, Vincent D'Onofrio, Tilda Swinton, and Vince Vaughn. The movie is frequently funny. Young Lou Pucci gives an excellent performance as Justin. This character and his story draws the viewer in and doesn't let go. Despite some moral and uplifting moments, THUMBSUCKER contains a mixed pagan worldview with some strong foul language, a bloody medical procedure, teenage substance abuse, political correctness, and implied sexual immorality between two teenagers. Like the rest of the movie, the ending is mixed, with good points and bad points.