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Thumbsucker

Year: 2005
Director: Mike Mills
Writer: Mike Mills
Cast: Pruitt Taylor Vince, Vincent D'Onofrio, Tilda Swinton, Keanu Reeves, Vince Vaughan, Benjamin Bratt
There's a loosely connected genre of films that can be described as a melding of Generation X (or Y) angst and that of coming of age/returning to one's roots/confronting the spirits of one's parents (name your life-altering event).

They seem to share a particular flavour; last year's Garden State was a classic examp, with the quirky characters, a dysfunctional (often rural or small-town) family and a small ritual to mark the passage of time, love or death. Cameron Crowe's recent and overblown Elizabethtown tried to capture it, but Crowe drowned it in a never-ending cacophony of his favourite music.

But in each entry into the genre, we're asked to identify with a fairly meek central character that confronts an assortment of oddities - whether they're people, situations or places. In Thumbsucker, the hero Justin is in fact the weird one - still sucking his thumb for comfort at 17 - but we're in no doubt we're supposed to be on his side.

The trouble with some teen angst movies is that if they're not done broadly, their audience is too narrow. 2001's Ghost World held a lot of promise but there was too much 'teen' in the angst and you were just as likely to be chuckling because you hear your kids talk like that.

As a hero's journey, Thumbsucker suffers a little from the same fate. At 17, after all, Justin is going to have a very different take on life - one not many people over 25 are going to relate to (if even remember).

As a fable, it has something to say about being true to yourself, and it seems that after all Justin's adventures, the moral of the story is that there was nothing wrong with him and he should have just been left alone to suck his thumb.

As a movie, it's somewhat colourless and scattered. The relationships are well portrayed, particularly by Justin's debating teacher Vaughan and parents D'Onofrio and Swinton, but you have a hard time caring about some of what transpires.

Justin's security blanket has already been his thumb. We meet him just before he embarks on a series of therapies, medications and experiments that all seem to be replacements for his thumb, going through a light coming of age along the way.

He's set upon the path by hippy dentist Reeves (a character that keeps changing and shifting to no apparent purpose) who hypnotises him to believe his thumb tastes like Echinacea. He also goes through Ritalin, marijuana and a stilted romance with a fellow student who seems as screwed up as he is, the whole time trying to navigate the human follies of his family around him.

As Justin, newcomer Pucci gives it his all, and to his credit, he doesn't just play a moody, scowling miscreant but moulds his expressions and posture according to the rollercoaster of states he lives through during the story.

It just could have done with some more angles - there's little you haven't seen before.

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