Even if the world didn't need another offbeat indie movie about the pains of growing up, Thumbsucker sticks out for its unabashed premise. Lou Taylor Pucci stars as a 17-year-old who compulsively sucks his thumb - a physical as well as psychological obstacle to ever getting his tongue down a girl's throat. Fortunately writer/director Mike Mills (adapting the novel by Walter Kirn) goes beyond the opening gimmick to deliver a compassionate and amusingly skewed story about embracing your weirdness.
Justin appears to take from his mother's side since Audrey (Tilda Swinton) doesn't act particularly grownup either. She obsesses about TV heartthrob Matt Schramm (a wilfully cheesy Benjamin Bratt) while her husband - Justin's father (Vincent D'Onofrio) - is busy mourning his youth as a college football star. Eventually Justin resorts to heavy sedation, whether it's prescribed Ritalin, back alley dope, or the intoxicating company of schoolmate Rebecca (Kelli Garner).
"SENSITIVE AS WELL AS SATIRICAL"
Counsel comes in the unlikely shape of Keanu Reeves playing a hilariously blank-faced, hippy orthodontist who advises Justin to "summon your power animal". Likewise Vince Vaughn is wickedly deadpan as the high school teacher who graciously informs Justin that Ritalin has turned him into a "monster". Without exception, Mills teases great performances out of an eclectic cast and his treatment of the drugs issue is sensitive as well as satirical. Disappointingly though, he steers towards an utterly conventional finale that meanders on the issue of thumb sucking as self-expression. Like Justin, Mills struggles to make his point, but even so, this is a tender portrait of teenhood that offers more to chew on than your average slice of American Pie.