Dan the Man's Movie Reviews

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Tag Archives: Mike Mills

Thumbsucker (2005)

Sucking thumbs are bad, but what about binkies?

Justin (Lou Taylor Pucci) is going through the usual growing pains that many teens his age have gone through before him and will continue to do so after him. The only small difference is that whereas most teens get by on focusing on themselves and trying harder to get better, Justin does so by sucking his thumb. It’s an odd habit he has, that eventually, his parents get him on some medicine, in hopes that he’ll not just kick the thumb sucking, but also become more focused in school. Thankfully for them, what they wanted does happen; eventually, Justin stops sucking his thumb, starts up a relationship with a girl (Kelli Garner), gets better at school, and starts winning all sorts of championships with his debate team. But eventually, all of the medicine begins to pick-up with Justin and it isn’t before long that he starts to spiral out of control, hurt those that he loves, and realize that he needs to grow up a lot sooner, but on his own and without any medicine to help him out.

Cut it out, baby!

Cut it out, baby!

Does Thumbsucker sound like some sort of metaphor for coming-of-age, growing up and realizing that you’re not a little baby anymore? Pretty much, yeah. Writer/director Mike Mills crafts what is, essentially, the 500th quirky, indie coming-of-age flick from the mid-aughts and while this one’s a little different in terms of its style, unfortunately, the story is pretty much still the same.

But sometimes, some of the same is fine. With Thumbsucker, there’s a feeling of familiarity here, but not just with the material itself – Mills does something neat in that he does paint Justin’s issues with growing up and accepting the world around him, as almost a universal thing that all kids at that age go through. Some can handle it quite well and get by with flying colors, whereas others, like Justin, have a rough time with it, suck their thumbs, and need a daily dose of whatever medicine they’re prescribed to get by and through another day. In a way, I make Thumbsucker sound like a melodramatic piece of Lifetime-trash, but it’s a little smarter than that.

For one, it’s got a neat style, yo.

For any of those who have seen Beginners or the recent 20th Century Women, they’ll know that Mills has a knack for telling a story in his own way, visually. Sometimes, this can get in the way of the material, but here, it does help it out, especially since a lot of what the movie seems to be talking about and covering, is a little dry. It’s a conventional tale that without Mills’ constant bits and pieces of art thrown in there for good measure, would have just been another run-of-the-mill coming-of-ager, but of course, it’s got that going for it.

Where Mills seems to lose himself a tad bit is in the story department, and not really knowing how to compact everything and everyone so perfectly well. For instance, Justin’s story is the clear focal point of the whole movie, but then, Mills also veers his head towards Justin’s parents, played by Tilda Swinton and Vincent D’nofrio, and then to Keanu Reeves’ hippie-dentist character, and eventually a little to Garner’s Rebecca character. Vince Vaughn’s teacher does get a moment here and there, but not his own subplot.

For a movie that barely even hits 90 minutes, it’s surprising how jam-packed this can be with story and that ends up becoming its own worst enemy. While Justin’s story is more than enough to maintain the whole flick, all of these other stories, like with the parents and their battle with aging, fidelity and staying happy, while are admirable, still don’t matter much. It’s as if we got the story of Justin, only to get to the parents themselves, only for the movie to realize that we have to hear about Justin a lot, too. It’s a constant back-and-forth that just didn’t quite work for me and made it seem like Mills himself was figuring out exactly where to go with it all, too.

Pictured: Not True Detective season 2

Pictured: Not True Detective season 2

Then again, the ensemble he’s put together is something else, so that helps, too.

Though we don’t get to see too much of him nowadays, Lou Taylor Pucci was quite the young talent and proves it with Justin. Here, Pucci has to act really angsty and smart, which could have definitely been annoying, but because Pucci plays this Justin character as a bit of a wild and loose cannon, it actually works to his benefit. It’s actually fun to watch him interact with those around him, as opposed to sad or boring. Kelli Garner plays the eventual apple of his eye and they have a nice bit of chemistry together, which would make sense considering they were going out around the same time, too, but that’s neither here nor there.

On the supporting side, Vince Vaughn does a nice job dialing down his persona, yet, still staying funny and heartfelt. If anything, all of Vaughn’s various attempts at playing it straight don’t quite come off as good as it does here and should be the calling-card he uses for future reference. Keanu Reeves, while still totally playing in his element as a bro-ish kind of dude, is fun to watch. And as the parents, D’onofrio and Swinton are good, too, even if their story could have probably had its own movie. Benjamin Bratt is around for a scene or two, makes us laugh and most of all, makes us wish he was around more.

Don’t think I’ve ever said that before, but hey, it’s the truth.

Consensus: While a tad too quirky and overstuffed for its own good, Thumbsucker is still a familiar, but also heartwarming coming-of-ager, assisted by a very good ensemble.

6.5 / 10

Always listen to Keanu when it comes to bro-ing out. Always.

Always listen to Keanu when it comes to bro-ing out. Always.

Photos Courtesy of: Movie Roulette 


Beginners (2011)

I definitely have a lot of questions to ask my daddy now.

‘Beginners’ tells the story of Oliver (Ewan McGregor), a graphic artist coming to grips with the imminent death of his father (Christopher Plummer), who, at 75, has one last secret: He’s gay. Both inspired and confused by his father’s determination to find true love at last, Oliver tentatively pursues a romance with commitment-shy French actress Anna (Mélanie Laurent).

It sounds like a weird premise that a 75-year old man would come out of the closet, after being married to a woman and having a child for 45 years, until you find out that this was actually from director/writer Mike Mills’ own life. Talk about a “birds and the birds” talk with your dad.

The film is a lot difficult at first since it has all of these different story-lines and the way its told is through a non-linear story structure, but somehow Mills makes it all work and by the 20 minute mark, I  didn’t get confused one bit as to when and where this story was at. Mills creates a very self-aware film where it breaks down the fourth-wall many times, shows years through pictures, has Oliver narrate the film a little bit himself, and even allow the dog to talk with subtitles appearing on the screen. All of this sounds a little crazy to have in just one flick, but it somehow works so incredibly well and Mills does not once lose himself with all of these little quirks that he can so easily pull off here.

Another aspect to this film is how Mills is able to make us smile and laugh, but even when it gets onto its real emotional stuff, it works even more. I laughed a lot during this flick mainly because there was just a happy little sweet spirit to everything behind this story. The story is essentially about a dude reflecting on his dad’s death through his own life and love, but there is just so many sweet and charming moments that this film lets loose of that it’s almost too hard to pay attention to that part of the story.

However, when it does get to the emotional stuff, the story does leave a lasting impact. Mills goes into the fractured and sad soul of Oliver and we get to see how he feels about the world and why. There is a lot of emotional truth to a lot of these scenes that they have here in this flick and it will actually touch you and make sense mainly because Mills is so able to just let out all of the feelings hurt people have inside. The film tackles a lot of aspects to Oliver’s life but almost each subject ends with a poignant but truthful moment and even though it never had me crying, I still felt connected to a lot of what was going on. Even though my dad isn’t gay, or not that I know of…

My main problem with this flick is that it doesn’t really have any surprises to offer when the story first gets started. It starts with us knowing that Oliver’s dad is dead and for me, I think that was a little bit of a bummer considering I think the film would have really worked if it started from us having his father tell him that he was gay, and somehow be able to work in the love-relationship he has with Anna as well. However, the structure they had done for this film already isn’t so bad in the first place so for me to really complain about it, is kind of bogus.

Another problem I had with this flick is that I feel like a lot of what Mills does here, as a very stylish director, is somewhat pretentious. Yes, a lot of what he brings to this film and this story is very original, but at times I feel like he was just adding some of his own little artsy moments in there to put his own stamp on things. I thought having Oliver’s work-life sort of go down the tubes because of how sad he is getting, was sort of like Mills trying to put his life more and more into this story, considering that he is a graphic artist himself which is what kind of bothered me to begin with.

Ewan McGregor is an actor who almost seems terribly bored with every role he has been taking in as of late, but he somehow here makes this performance perfect as Oliver. I don’t know what there is about him but he’s just so subtle, so relaxed, and so real that he just fits this character so well and it’s really great to see him work on his comedic chops but also his dramatic chops considering that it’s been a long while since he’s gotten the chance to do so. Everybody who loved ‘Inglorious Basterds’ will notice Mélanie Laurent playing Oliver’s “girlfriend”, Anna. She is your usual quirky, eccentric, and pretty zany love interest that almost any rom-com has but she has an under-lining darkness to her that separates her and keeps her away from being a “type”. These two are great together and you can really feel their chemistry every time they hit the screen. Let’s not also forget the scene-stealing dog, played by Cosmo who creates this buddy-buddy relationship with McGregor that is unlike anything else.

It’s practically a given that Christopher Plummer gives a good performance here but he really does shine here as Hal, and it may just be the role that could nab him that Oscar after all of these years. Plummer doesn’t play this role with a lot of camp or any hoakiness that usually comes with a dude playing a homosexual man. Instead, he takes this role with a large amount of embrace that he is finally able to live the life he has wanted to for so long, and the way Plummer plays it all is not just a joy to watch, but also inspirational. There has been some talk for Plummer getting an Oscar for this and that is not something I would be against since he is so incredible here and you really just feel like this is a real person rather than the usual flamboyant caricature we usually get of a homosexual man.

Consensus: With a real heart at the center of its funky story, Beginners is a well-acted, gentle, funny, and moving portrait about it never being too late to have love in your life, no matter how old or young.