Thunder Road: Portrait of a ticking human time bomb

Review: This nervy, goofy comedy is based on ‘one of the best short films ever made’

A major new talent: Jim Cummings in Thunder Road

Film Title: Thunder Road

Director: Jim Cummings

Starring: Jim Cummings, Kendal Farr, Nican Robinson, Macon Blair, Jocelyn DeBoer, Chelsea Edmundson, Ammie Leonards, Bill Wise

Genre: Comedy

Running Time: 90 min

Fri, May 31, 2019, 05:00

   

Stand aside, potentially embarrassing radio interview; here comes the most mortifying oration of the decade. Thunder Road’s overture is one unbroken, scarlet-making shot in which Jim Arnaud (played by Austin-based writer-director Jim Cummings) gives a rambling eulogy at his mom’s funeral, a speech characterised by choked sobs, an interpretative dance (without music), and tangents about getting bitten by a kid with a disability and coping with dyslexia.

It doesn’t get any better for this teary cop struggling with grief and anger issues. He’s going through a messy uncoupling from his wife, Rosalind (Jocelyn DeBoer) and a custody battle for his awkward preteen daughter Crystal (Kendal Farr).

Prone to emotional explosions, forceful dealings and gun-waving, he’s a cause for concern for his partner and best pal Nate (Nican Robinson). Jim tells his equally perturbed captain that he’s fine, that his behaviour is understandable in the circumstances, but he’s visibly a ticking, blubbing, screaming human time bomb.

The story behind Jim Cummings’s nervy comedy is almost as impressive as the film itself. In 2016 Cummings’s 10-minute short of the same name, a version of the feature film’s opening scene set to the titular Bruce Springsteen track, picked up awards from Sundance, SXSW, Los Angeles and Palm Springs.

Indiewire named it one of the best short films ever made, and a subsequent Kickstarter campaign to raise a production budget for this expansion exceeded its target within seven hours.

That has proved a fine investment for those backers. Thunder Road is a prickly, goofy film, powered along the unpredictability of its protagonist and some terrific reactive turns, particularly from newcomer Nican Robinson. The final act feels a little rushed but there’s more than enough emotional storytelling to compensate. An appearance by Jeremy Saulnier collaborator Macon Blair (I Don’t Feel at Home in this World Anymore), a talismanic player in American indie cinema, works to confer Cummings as a major new talent.