Justin Cobb (Colton Tanner, Lou Pucci) is a shy 17-year-old in a family of four in suburban Oregon. He has a persistent thumb-sucking habit his father (Vincent D’Onofrio) disapproves of, which has led to major orthodontic repair. He addresses his parents by their first names, Mike and Audrey (Tilda Swinton), so as not to make his father feel old. Audrey, a registered nurse, is idly fascinated by actor Matt Schramm (Benjamin Bratt), entering a contest to win a date with him. She insists it is innocent fun, but is inordinately concerned with looking attractive for the contest.
Justin struggles on his school’s debate team, led by Mr. Geary (Vince Vaughn) which he joined to get closer to his environmentalist classmate Rebecca (Kelli Garner). He tries to start a relationship with her, but she rejects him after he cannot open up to her about his thumb-sucking habit.
At a regular checkup, Justin’s orthodontist, Dr. Perry Lyman (Keanu Reeves), indicates he can tell that Justin is still sucking his thumb, and attempts hypnosis, suggesting that his thumb will taste like echinacea. This works, and Justin finds his thumb distasteful, but falls deeper into frustration without the crutch. After Justin conspires with his brother to disrupt Dr. Lyman in a bicycle race with Justin’s father, his school counselor prods the Cobbs to give him Ritalin. While his parents wring their hands over the idea, Justin insists that he needs the help.
Almost immediately after beginning the drug treatment, Justin begins to have elevated energy, confidence and focus. He begins to excel on the debate team, unseating Rebecca from the star position; she quits the team and drifts into the stoners crowd. Justin’s newfound aggressiveness nets the debate team repeated awards. Simultaneously, he begins to challenge the neuroses of the adults around him, especially their struggles with aging. With a somewhat deceitful cover letter, he applies to NYU, in spite of his mother’s urging that he go to college closer to home.
After rambling incoherently at the state debate championship, Justin quits the debate team, throws away the pills, and seeks out Rebecca to hook him up with pot. During their smoking sessions, Rebecca blindfolds him and engages with him in kissing and other sexual activity, which Justin interprets as a relationship. But when he broaches the subject, Rebecca tells him otherwise, calling their meetings an “experiment.” He quits both her and the drugs.
Director: Mike Mills
Year of Release: 2005
Character to watch: Lou Pucci as Justin Cobb.
Journal your answers to the following questions after you watch the movie.
- How does this particular character’s journey compare with yours?
- Did the character develop certain characteristics during the movie that you have or that you would like to have? If so, what are those characteristics?
- What obstacles did this character face? What was his or her biggest challenge?
- What would you have done differently if you had been in the same position as the character?
- Is this character the type of person you would be friends with? Why or why not?