When it rains, it pours. And when a hurricane comes, it really blows – and in more ways than one. Local filmmaker Jim Cummings wrote, directed, and performed Thunder Road originally as a one take short film, which went on to win many an award and plenty of hearts in the process. It depicts a son’s eulogy to his late mother’ with all the bells and whistles that come with grief, exploding over ten minutes of exposition, anger, dance, and Bruce Springsteen. It’s comedy gold, absolutely, but with the imaginative dramatic complexity that brings out so much in a character and those around him: the awkwardness we feel watching him, the pathetic nature of his actions, and the universal sadness that is easily registered within all of us.
The short was so successful, Jim amped things up a bit with an expanded feature-length movie. What is the story like after the funeral? Where does it all go?
Well, where could it possibly go? Jim, as writer and director too, plays a heartland-ish/possibly southern (his last name is Arnaud) police officer, dealing with the stress after stress after stress of an ever-worsening life he lives, starting with his eulogy and never letting up until the finale. Cummings plays this man – a separated husband in the midst of a custody battle, a father to a little girl quickly disassociating from him, a policeman losing respect from his colleagues, etc – with a genuine and careful touch. Sometimes when crying, we chuckle. Other times, we cry with him. The tears and the whimpers don’t change, but our instinctual reactions do. This can be credited to a “Book of Job” effect, where there is an emotional resonance in an individual being stripped down for all to see, from one crisis to another.
The character of Jim Arnaud has love, for sure. However, he also has rage, both passive and active. It’s amazing how, with the flip of a switch, he can go off the handle by lifting a desk towards an unassuming teacher or threatening a drunk with a beating, to calming down just enough to regain or even maintain some restraint and dignity, both self and otherwise. Rarely in independent or mainstream dramedies of this nature do we see layers of mourning, madness, kindness, reflection, and affection at all, let alone wrapped in one person. It’s a singular performance in a singular movie, to be certain. One that will have you smiling and teary-eyed for various – right or wrong – reasons.
The photography, occasionally fly on the wall style, usually zoomed in from afar, suggests both an urge to get in close and an apprehension or hesitation out of concern. How close do we want to get to this man and his life, really? In shambles and tatters, things just pile on and go further down. Still, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Still, he has a heart. He may think it’s breaking, but it’s really growing. And it just may take some time and troubles to learn this.
Thunder Road can best be described as a guaranteed crowd-pleaser, with a subversive edge. It’s slick and straight up wacky in how events play out and bleed into one another, but also homey and comforting in seeing and understanding the strange but perhaps healthy by way of mostly odd behavior a personal journey inward can be. Almost as if presented with a level of divinity, this film gets at a heightened/exaggerated truth about introspection and living that could and should earn more accolades. One rousing escape into the problems of another that leads back to us, this is.
Where do we go from here? Further up, I say.
RATING: 5 / 5
Bill Arceneaux has been an independent writer and film critic in the New Orleans area since 2011, working with outlets like Rotten Tomatoes, Film Threat, DIG Baton Rouge, Crosstown Conversations and Occupy. You can see the rest of his film and music reviews, as well as his other pieces here.