Justin Cobb (Lou Pucci) is 17 and still sucking his thumb, which concerns and disturbs his family, especially his father Mike (Vincent D'Onofrio). His guru-like orthodontist Perry (Keanu Reeves) tries hypnosis and Justin feels it helps, but his school principal diagnoses Attention Deficit Disorder and Justin is put on the drug, Ritalin, which replaces his thumb and gives him a high that leads to debating success. But the high can't last and Rebecca (Kelli Garner) introduces him to both pot and sex, neither with great success. Justin continues to fret about his own weaknesses as well the ones he sees in his father and his mother (Tilda Swinton), who he believes is having an affair with a TV soap star (Benjamin Bratt).
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Picking pages from a novel and expecting the selection to make up an engaging and involving screenplay is highly optimistic. It is possibly exciting for actors and the director, but it doesn't work for the audience. That's how this films plays for much of the time. In an effort to condense, the work has not only been truncated but castrated. The film barely survives on the strength of performances from a superb cast. We even forgive Benjamin Bratt appearing only in one - albeit crucial - scene, late in the film, when he does a great cameo as a star addict. (As he recounts the film's most hilarious experience in flashback, we see him in his second scene, but not much of him. He is lying on a stretcher as he is being attended to after losing a stash up his bum.)
Keanu Reeves provide light relief as the new age orthodontist who manages to combine incense burning hypnosis healing with cigarette smoking advice in the film's most adventurous character. The problem with Mike Mills' film is that the disconnection is terminal; Lou Pucci is great as Justin Cobb, but hardly an engaging character. Thumbsucking is visually dull; so is he. The reliable Tilda Swinton gets too few moments to be engaging, and her husband is so stolid and blokey as to be suspect of having forgotten his lines. I know he's supposed to be a guilt-ridden sporting figure who coulda been a contender, but the screenplay doesn't give him the room to be three dimensional that the novel can.
The film borders on boring for much of the time, sparks occasionally relieving the tedium, and the odd venture into fantasy (when we see the molecules of the drugs work magic somewhere inside Justin) is an oddly inserted visual joke that isn't backed up by anything else.
In any coming of age film, the journey ends somewhere new, but the triumphant ending, in which Justin seems to have conned his way into university far from home (escaping the tentacles of his teen angst) despite his grades, is brought down by a scene that takes us back to the beginning of his journey. These elements can all be hotly debated, but it doesn't make for a satisfying film.
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CAST: Lou Pucci, Tilda Swinton, Vince Vaughn, Vincent D'Onofrio, Keanu Reeves, Benjamin Bratt, Kelli Garner, Chase Offerle
PRODUCER: Anthony Bregman, Bob Stepheneson
DIRECTOR: Mike Mills
SCRIPT: Mike Mills (novel by Walter Kirn)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Joaquin Baca-Asay
EDITOR: Haines Hall, Angus Wall
MUSIC: Tim DeLaughter
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Judy Becker
RUNNING TIME: 96 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Sony
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: November 24, 2005
VIDEO DISTRIBUTOR: Sony Home Entertainment
VIDEO RELEASE: April 26, 2006
RIVERSIDE SNEAK PEEK PREMIERES
A program of premiere screenings of new movies prior to their commercial release
on 4 consecutive Tuesdays - March 10, 17, 24, 31, 2015 - at Riverside Theatre,
Curated & presented by Andrew L. Urban, discussion to
follow with special guests. Briefing notes provided.