“If you see me wrestling an alligator, forget the alligator, help me!” – Thunder Road (Film Review)

Rating:

I cried during this film. Three, maybe four times.

I also laughed a lot. That’s important. But that’s not as important a fact to share about this film than the fact it moved me to tears seemingly at will.

I know that’s not a conventional or even professional way to start a film review, but, given the sentiments and ‘underlying message’ of Jimm Cummings’ feature, Thunder Road, it’s important for me to say that upfront.

You see, this offbeat comedy, adapted from the actor/writer/director’s 2015 short film, demonstrates the importance of people, specifically men intoxicated with gender stereotypes, accepting that sometimes things have such an emotional impact on us that no matter how many times we say “It’s okay” in front of the mirror, we simply sometimes cannot cope.

In the film’s brilliant opening scene, Officer Jim Arnauld (Cummings), donning full police uniform and sporting a mustache that screams Boogie Nights, hilariously and woefully goes off-script while delivering his mother’s eulogy. After espousing the endless kindness of his late mother and fighting back the tears, Arnauld dives into an interpretive dance of his mother’s favourite song: ‘Thunder Road’ by Bruce Springsteen.

There’s only one problem. The CD player isn’t working. But that doesn’t stop Arnauld.

In a moment that certainly epitomizes the Office-like cringe comedy that is laced throughout the entire film, Cummings’ character carries on anyway. And, in between sobs, tears and the odd pirouette, gives his growingly concerned audience a mini-lecture on the song’s meaning and importance to his mother. At one moment he realizes that he could have just played the song on his phone and “yeah, I should have done that from the start.”

It’s a brilliant scene aided by Cummings’ use of a complete one-shot that slowly zooms in on Arnauld, a motif that the director will return to throughout the film to convey the growing rage building in the despairing police officer.

At key points in this film, this contained and inarticulated rage is finally let out and it becomes clear that the death of his mother is an inciting incident that unravels and aggravates key areas of Arnauld’s life: his relationship with his daughter, his job and his interactions with the mother of his child. And the filmmakers deal with these issues with a tremendous blend of humour and gravity, that has you laughing one minute but then slowly realising the sadness behind the hilarity; laughs give way to concern.

There is this one particular saying that the protagonist repeats throughout the film with a whimpery laugh which I think is indicative of Arnauld’s struggle: “You see me wrestling an alligator, help the alligator!” This is a man caught in between the image he is projecting and the internal turmoil that is ravishing his insides. Despite the concern of friends and colleagues, Arnauld, to his great detriment, maintains that he is pinning the great gator to the ground. When in actuality, his head is perched in its mouth. He snaps when dealing with a homeless man; he shouts when his daughter rejects him, and he crumbles when he is suspended from work.

However, running through the film there is a silver lining (in fact this film shares a lot in common with David O Rusell’s Silver Linings Playbook: from the dance studio to Cummings’ Bradley-Cooper-esque performance) of hope. This mainly comes in the form of the Lewis family, who, due to a sense of brotherly loyalty to Arnauld, support him through his struggles and offer him an outlet to vent his pain and enjoy family life again.

Although I found the film incredibly powerful and, at times, utterly hilarious, it does suffer from poor plotting. Although it is just over an hour and a half, the film goes limp near the end of the second act. Interactions that the film sets up as crucial elements of the first act, specifically an interaction with a 16-year-old girl who Arnauld stops being taken advantage of by two men, do not amount to anything significant. Moreover, the film’s denouement I felt missed the mark. I see what the filmmakers were trying to achieve, however, it is handled with a simplicity that dilutes the moment of any real weight.

Thunder Road, therefore, contains moments that are greater than the sum of its parts. But those moments are definitely worth the ride. And, as The Boss, tells us, the film urges us to not ‘run back inside” and “don’t hide beneath our covers and study our pain.”

Dir & Scr: Jim Cummings

Cast: Jim Cummings, Kendal Farr, Nican Robinson, Jocelyn DeBoer, Ammie Masterson.

DOP: Lowell A. Meyer

Country: U.S.

Year: 2018

Run time: 92 mins

Thunder Road is released on Digital on the 20th September 2019

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