Thumbsucker does not have the voiceover (and accompanying cutaways) that make Mills' Beginners and 20th Century Women what they are. That necessarily makes the film a little less charming.
(I wonder if the original script had that stuff, and Mills didn't have the clout to get away with it yet.)
It's good, but it's not as... Yeah, charming was probably the right word.
Or maybe the problem is that focusing so much on the teen here means there isn't the more experienced perspective of Beginners or 20th Century Women.
Or maybe I just don't buy Keanu Reeves as a dentist.
There is a sort of cutaway, but played more like slightly odd establishing shots. Closeups on name tags, for example.
And, maybe it's not fair to judge this film for its focus on the teen. The point of this film seems to be that the adults are just as unsure of things, just as undeveloped, just as incomplete as Justin is. His mother wants to win a date with an actor. His father wants to be called by his first name so as not to feel old. The aforementioned dentist even tells Justin,
[W]e all want to be problemless, to fix ourselves. We look for some magic solution to make us all better, but none of us really know what we're doing. And why is that so bad? That's all we humans can do. Guess. Try. Hope. But, Justin, just pray you don't fool yourself into thinking you've got the answer. Because that's bullshit. The trick is living without an answer. I think.
1. That's Ted "Theodore" Logan offering up that sage advice. Which, come to think of it, I can actually imagine Ted saying such things more than I can imagine Keanu saying them. His Doctor Lyman is somewhere in between.
2. Maybe it doesn't matter who is saying it. I mean, the film is about how, regardless of age, the characters don't quite have everything figured out. Is that really so profound that it couldn't come from Justin, or Audrey, or Mike, or Perry or even Justin's little brother?
"Justin' have you ever suspected that you were different...? Not as patient. Can't finish what you started. Terrified of being left alone but angry when you feel crowded."
The principal asks this before pronouncing Justing a "classic hyperactive teen" and suggesting he be medicated.
But, aren't those things just as generic as most horoscopes? I mean, don't we all feel different at some time or another? Don't we all feel impatient and that anyone else can be patient is aggravating? Even if you can finish some of the things you start, when someone talks about not finishing what you started, don't you immediately think about what ifs and if onlys? Aren't we all terrified of being left alone? Even when we're with other people. And, aren't other people too much sometimes for everybody? Or am I so far gone that this film isn't touching on universals, rather I am just as fucked up as a classic hyperactive teen?
Ultimately, I think this film needs the density of voiceover, needs cutaways to universalize the experiences on screen.
And, it could use some actual debate on screen instead of a series of one-liner arguments back and forth. But, a film about actual debate would probably have as small an audience as debate usually has.
(For those who have not followed this blog for long, you should know that I debated in college, did pretty well at it too, and in grad school I coached debaters and I've taught debate to junior high and high school students as well. The unstructured nonsense on display in this and so many other films, and TV (for example, the very first episode of Community that I watched, which the debate format bugged me but the surrounding plot amused me enough to come back) is bothersome. Like when cops watch cop shows on TV or doctors watch doctor shows.)