Did the world need a remake of Nick Ray’s Bigger Than Life for the Ritalin generation? Well, Mike Mills has made one, or half of one at least, but the rest is the latest iteration of the suburban horror flick — you know the type, in which actual human beings are terrifyingly replaced one by one by the Idea of Unfulfillment.
In Ray’s classic, Robert Shaw goes messianic on cortisone, but anti-ADD pills just make Thumbsucker’s Justin (Lou Pucci) a really good high school debater. It’s only the first of the pop panaceas he cycles through — thumbsucking, hypnosis, pot, fumbly sex — to cure his way-serious case of trembling angst. His parents (Tilda Swinton and Vincent d’Onofrio) likewise suffer in their anonymity, with Dad, yes, a dashed football prospect. Keanu Reeves plays Justin’s transcendental dentist, about which post-ironic gambit the less said the better. (Vince Vaughn as his debate teacher, on the other hand...)
With huge eyes and hide-me hair, questing young Pucci commands attention but only like a dog who stares at you while you’re eating — focused, yes, but one-dimensional and clumsily manipulative. His sentimental education feels oddly disengaged, with everyone allowed their own spotlit acting moment. And it’s amazing how yet another movie about suburban blahs fails to give any real sense of what living there is like. Cinematographer Joaquín Baca-Asay posits something interesting with his antiseptic cornerless light, but Mills loves to ruin moods with a bit of slo-mo set to whiny pop, or with Justin’s smart-aleck little brother.
To see someone cruise through a movie with bad hair and grade-A anguish, stick to Nick Ray (Rebel Without a Cause). Me and you and everyone we know in tract housing must yet await a poet laureate.
Opens September 16