Not unlike an earlier post about Layer Cake, the movie Thumbsucker got me thinking about how there’s a sort of sub-genre of movies similar to it. I’ll call it "indie post-modern coming of age story" for lack of a better word.
It usually involves a teenager fighting some symbolic ailment while dealing with a family that is dysfunctional to some extent. The colors are usually somewhat muted and is backed by a lot of indie musicians playing heartfelt piano and acoustic guitar music. The final conclusion – or a scene close to it – is almost always filmed in slow motion. And then there is the obligatory "scene review montage" that comes at the end, where over the aforementioned indie balladry comes quiet, character-less shots of the places where the story took place… the bedroom, the house, the school, etc. Not every movie in this sub-genre has all of those elements, but they usually have some and have a similar feel. It all results in a moody, slow-paced film that tries to evoke a lot of emotion from the viewer. A lot of them succeed.
However, at this point, the genre has kind of been done again and again. Movies like Donnie Darko (with a sci-fi touch), Napoleon Dynamite, Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums… and then even other films that go outside of the teen genre but still maintain that same feel: The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, Punch Drunk Love, and American Beauty, for example.
Since Thumbsucker has a familiar feel to it, but is trying to be so defiantly "indie," it doesn’t work that well. It comes across as kind of pretentious and copy-cat. It isn’t a bad film and probably would have been break-through a few years ago. However, at this point, it results in a film with a lot of potential but ends up tripping over itself.