Jim Cummings, Kendal Farr, Jocelyn DeBoer
FilmInk rates movies out of $20 — the score indicates the amount we believe a ticket to the movie to be worth
…a brilliant piece of work that paints the portrait of an all too human response to tragedy building upon tragedy… an absolute treat of a movie.
In a steady opening 12-minute shot, director Jim Cummings invites you to watch Officer Jim Arnaud (Cummings), the protagonist of his film Thunder Road, wrestle with a multitude of feelings and insecurities as he tries to give a eulogy at his mother’s funeral. He cracks jokes, only to immediately regret them. He apologises to the people crying in the church, assuming that he’s being too emotional. He’s a mess and the cherry on the whole pathetic cake comes when Jim attempts to perform a choreographed dance to Bruce Springsteen’s ‘Thunder Road’, unable to play the song due to a faulty CD player.
On its own, this whole shower of shame would make a great short – and indeed, it does (https://vimeo.com/174957219). As a prologue, it perfectly pitches the sad and humorous tone Cummings is gunning for. It’s okay to laugh at Jim, but you’re going to feel incredibly sorry for him as soon as you do.
Thunder Road sees Jim trying and failing to cope with his mother’s death. His only solace comes in the shape of his daughter, Crystal (Kendal Farr), who he shares custody with along with his deadbeat ex-wife, Rosalind (Jocelyn DeBoer). Despite her young age, Cummings shows Crystal talking to her father like she’s an exhausted mother. Realising that he’s forgotten to pass on an invite to friends’ birthday now long gone, Crystal returns to her colouring as if she’s run out of things to say. Jim, for his part, knows his own shortcomings and overzealously tries to be a good dad; at one point, staying up all night so he can learn how to play patty cake.
Trying too hard and falling short is the thread that runs through Thunder Road as Jim seeks ways to settle the angst and regret born from his mother’s passing. Hints are dropped that Jim was never the dutiful son, but equally, he could just be convincing himself that he wasn’t. However, realising that he’ll never be able to make amends for the times he believes he never got to truly understand his mother, he exerts more effort on himself to be the perfect father to Crystal and ultimately, seems to just get in his own way more often than not.
As Jim, Cummings portrays a painfully insecure man wrapped up in nervous, twitching skin. Constantly on edge, you’re just waiting for the dour police officer to snap at any moment and hoping that he gets his stuff together before he does so. His momentary flashes of rage erupt at the most inopportune moments – such as halfway through a parent teacher meeting, squished into a child’s school desk – and are for the most part, excruciatingly funny. Other times though, Cummings ensures that the seriousness of Jim’s mourning bubbles to the surface to remind us that he is not just a uniformed Pagliacci the clown. In one scene, Jim’s partner finds him at home having torn up his entire home after a particularly vicious custody trial with Rosalind. Like Adam Sandler’s outbursts in Punch Drunk Love – to which this film would make an extremely satisfying double bill – these moments show the impotent rage that courses through our ‘hero’.
Overall, Thunder Road is a brilliant piece of work that paints the portrait of an all too human response to tragedy building upon tragedy. We are all guilty of not doing the right thing when we need to, or doubling down on repressing our feelings in case people think we’re weak. Officer Jim Arnaud is a poster child for those moments and his tale is as sad, and as happy, and as mournful, and as uplifting as you could expect. It’s an absolute treat of a movie.