31 Days of Film: Thunder Road
I know we’re in overtime. I mean more accurately, this is like quadruple overtime, but I ran out of time in 2018 and I was determined this year to actually get 31 movies finished. However long that ended up taking. I thought this year I would for sure get the 31 done since my December was shaping up to be far less busy than last one. And then shit met fan and here are, January 12th and I’ve seen 20 movies and written about 13. It’s not ideal. I am determined to complete it before December 2019 though, when this whole thing will start again, maybe I’ll even get it done before the weather gets nice again and people start trying to make me venture into the great outdoors.
I watched Thunder Road Christmas week. I wanted to make sure I got in this movie before we did our end of year podcast because I had heard so many wonderful things about it. Even had heard some people say it was their favorite movie of 2018. I had heard about Thunder Road earlier in the year, the film’s creation is a really compelling story. Jim Cummings wrote, directed, and starred in his first feature length film based on his short film of the same name. The short film won basically every short film award there is to win in 2016 it’s about a police officer eulogizing his late mother by singing and dancing to Bruce Springsteen’s “Thunder Road.” Cummings reenacts the short film for the opening of the movie—minus the actual song for budget reasons I would have to imagine. The short film, available on Vimeo, is brilliant, it’s about 13-minutes of unrelenting awkwardness and still full of so much heart and humor and Cummings performance is both impossible to look away from and painful to watch. The film version of the eulogy is mercifully but twice as awkward without the backing track.
It’s once officer Jim Arnaud leaves the funeral that Thunder Road really takes off. When I heard that Cummings had turned his short film into a movie it would have had to be about his relationship to his mother and that if anything he film would end with the eulogy. Instead, Cummings tells the story of officer Arnaud in the days following his mother’s death as every aspect of his life from career to family begin to unravel. Which ends up being a much more rewarding story. Cummings delivers a vulnerable and personal performance that draws the audience in as they watch Jim Arnaud’s life go from bad to worse. There is an ego to the performance that could have gone so poorly where writer/director Jim Cummings sets scene after scene where everyone else clears out for another signature sequence for actor Jim Cummings. But what could have gone so poorly ends up succeeding as Cummings delivers a mesmerizing tragicomic performance with as many tears as laughs.
Ultimately aside from Jim Cummings performance, there isn’t much else extraordinary in Thunder Road. It’s a boilerplate family drama narrative with some well-written comedy but in many parts, Jim Cummings directorial ability let’s down his performance. Thunder Road is an above average movie that lets its exceptional lead performance although with a $200,000 budget all funded from Kickstarter it is truly incredible it turned out as well made as it did. I envy Cummings’ gumption to bet on himself, I envy even more that it worked out.
Thunder Road is a good movie, but a better story. Jim Cummings’ ability to get this film made was a two year journey that we’ve seen go poorly so many times before but this time it went better than I think even Cummings could have imagined. If the future of small personal movies is that they all have to be self and crowd funded than at least the road map exists for success. You just have to find a pretty good script and a transcendent lead actor who is good enough to carry 90% of the screen time and also works for free.