US | 2018 | Directed Jim Cummings
Logline: A police officer begins to have a nervous breakdown as he struggles to deal with this mother’s death, a divorce and custody battle for his young daughter.
Expanding on his 2016 multi-award-winning short, writer/director and star Jim Cummings has delivered what is very likely to be in my top three favourite movies of the year. Yup, it’s April, and I’m calling it. Thunder Road is a darkened comedy-drama, what we call a tragi-comedy. With a tour-de-force performance from Cummings, it’s a superb vehicle for his talents as a writer and actor.
The movie opens with Austin, Texas police officer Jim Arnaud (Cummings) at the funeral service for his mother, attempting a heartfelt eulogy. It is painfully obvious he is struggling, both emotionally and psychologically. It’s a single take, as the camera slowly dollies down the church centre aisle, with Jim recollecting, apologising, recollecting, apologising, wavering between abject grief and tempered frustration. His endeavour to perform a dance piece is an absurd display, since the CD player won’t work. The mother of his separated wife steps in to calm him down.
That prologue formed the basis of the short film.
The feature continues with Jim’s trials and tribulations, his plight through personal mourning and public mistake. His work performance is at risk, and his daughter, Crystal (Kendall Farr) is suffering too. Then wife Ros (Jocelyn DeBoer) files for divorce, and Jim is a crumpled heap, clutching at straws, bursting into tears at the slightest provocation. Can he pull himself together? He desperately wants to.
Let’s hope he sorts his shit out. For everyone’s sake. But there’ll be many tears before bedtime.
Jim Cummings seems to have sprung out of nowhere, but it turns out, apart from a number of shorts he’s directed over the years, he’s had his fingers in a few creative pies, and also did a stint as a visual affects production assistant for ILM on Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Thunder Road is his second feature (he made another comedy back in 2010) and I am very impressed with this man’s take on life’s wee ironies, the delicacies of maintaining relationships, his insightful window into the soul. Jim Arnaud is one of the most complex and rewarding characters I’ve seen in a long while; awkward and at times pathetic, but tenacious, compassionate, and utterly endearing.
The direction is not cinematic in any standout way, in fact, much of the time the movie feels like a television adaptation of a play; there are few locations and just a clutch of main roles. Nican Robinson is terrific as Jim’s police buddy Nate, as is Chelsea Edmundson as Jim’s sister, and Macon Blair makes a short appearance as Crystal’s school teacher in a wonderfully funny scene. But Cummings keeps the narrative brisk, and his central performance - he’s in almost every scene - is one to behold, especially with his monologues.
Thunder Road (its title is taken from the Bruce Springsteen song, which is used in the short) is one of the year’s true delights, essential viewing for anyone who has struggled with grief, struggled with the role of parent and provider, struggled with recognition, struggled with connection to those they love, and those they might have lost. Struggled with always having to put on the happy face. Thunder Road will provide the perfect emotional release.
Feel free to laugh out loud.
“Oh oh oh oh, Thunder Road
Sit tight, take hold, Thunder Road …”