| The Red Right Hand
This debut for director Mike Mills has me torn, I’m afraid to say. You see, he’s assembled a good cast and a rather interesting coming-of-age story about a seventeen year old [lanky, long greasy hair, weak chin…. Oh how I am reminded of myself - how sickening] who still sucks his thumb [I don‘t do that]. The problem is, I don’t know if I liked it or not. I think I did…
Justin [Pucci] is a loser, it’s as simple as that. He doesn’t seem to have any friends, he’s never kissed a girl, he has no style or social status and his Father insists on calling his parents by their first names. He’s a stereotypical high school nerd. His mother [Swinton] and Father [D‘Onofrio] are both concerned that his thumb-sucking is getting worse - even though it’s a simple comfort thing that he only seems to explore when he’s frightened or stressed. Justin is also a part of a debate team, headed by his teacher, Mr Geary [Vaughn]. The only problem is that Justin doesn’t have the confidence to debate and he’s fawning over Rebecca - the team leader.
Justin also receives some new-age counselling from his dentist, Perry [Reeves]. Reeves portrays something surprisingly humorous, which is odd because he projects a mixed combination of ‘My name’s Keanu Reeves, I can’t act’ and ‘My name’s Keanu Reeves and I know I can’t act.’ All-in-all, his random little scenes make for nice intervals. His dentist attempts hypnotherapy and convinces Justin that he doesn’t need to suck his thumb anymore, this leaves Justin distressed as when he tries to his thumb doesn’t taste good and he literally can’t suck it anymore. Justin’s unhappiness shows through in his debate class as he storms off when asked to present something. The teachers diagnose him with ADHD [attention deficit hyperactivity disorder] and put him on drugs. Suddenly Justin’s life is back on track, he becomes head of the debate team and a major success. He’s more assertive and confident which leads to him drinking and ‘messing around’ with the girls from the debate team
Just before a big debate Justin is confronted by his opponent who tells him that the pills are just speed, nothing more. Suddenly Justin loses his confidence, then realising what he’s become throws the drugs in the bin. This leads him back to Rebecca who has now become a stoner. They explore drugs and each other and Justin seems to be happy again. After a while Justin realises that he’s simply being used by Rebecca as she seems ashamed of him and refuses to call their status a ‘relationship.’
Having gone through a considerable amount, Justin confronts his Father, who has forced all his dreams and aspirations onto his son because he injured his knee and couldn’t play [American] football anymore. This would be cliché except for the fact that Justin just wants to know how his Father dealt with it so that he can too and his Father simply can’t tell him. It’s very impressive storytelling for such an early project from Mills.
The acting is strong, the subplots many - yet relevant and the story is strong enough to effect the audience but at the same time credible enough to believe. The film, however, does fall short in a genre that is as equally captivating as it is isolating. It’s difficult to enjoy a film like this, similar to I Heart Huckabees, you either like it or you don’t. To be honest I would suggest Garden State as a better version of subversive comedy meets family issues, but this is still a worthy contribution to this growing genre and style of film making. I doubt it will do well at the box office, but it will probably become one of those hidden cult gems that crops up on student’s Top 10 lists time and again.
28th October 2005
The Scene To Look Out For:
When Dr. Perry Lyman is hypnotising Justin he tells him to find his power animal, Justin envisions a deer. Perry tells Justin to call to him. “Come here, boy!”…… Perry looks a little stunned then says, “Do it in your head”
Vince Vaughn’s character, Mr Geary. Typical Vaughn humour with the added realisation that he’s getting older. It’s a nice role to compliment Wedding Crasher’s Jeremy Grey, showing how Vaughn can also play the disconnected adult, trying to fit in with the kids.
“You ever stop to think you're so busy being weird that I have to step up and be normal?”
In A Few Words:
Funny and insightful. Great potential from Mike Mills