Thunder Road is a painfully funny comedy with a break out performance from writer and director Jim Cummings. Strikingly original and might be the best comedic independent film in years.
Thunder Road opens with a clearly distraught and youngish police officer at his mother’s funeral named Jim Arnaud, who is so overcome by grief he decides to go all in and not hold back. He talks about how she raised him, helped transcribe notes in school for his dyslexia, and supported him with a love only mothers provide. Yes, this is nothing new when it comes to scenes of a loss of a loved one. What makes the opening so unique, and so different, is that he is trying to express his emotions by performing a dance number to Bruce Springsteen’s Thunder Road. It’s fine, you see, we all express grief in different ways.
If you think Officer Arnaud has hit rock bottom, you would be wrong. Thunder Road was written and directed by Jim Cummings (and based on his Sundance Grand Jury-winning short film), a talented Hollywood jack-of-all-trades type, who has been an actor, producer, cinematographer, writer and director on several shorts; he even has a credit as a production assistant for Industrial Light & Magic on Captain America: The Winter Soldier. When you hear talk about starting from the bottom and working your way up, this guy is it. Now, he has written a movie that might be the most painfully funny comedic independent film in years.
*******’s Arnaud character is a mess, emotionally and mentally, and his situation is bordering on a quagmire status. He is going through a divorce, his kid hates him, just lost his mother, and he hasn’t gotten a decent night sleep in years. He has a slow, southern charm about him, and that translates well when he goes into his trademark ramblings that have a heartfelt warmth to them. Though, they always seem to unravel in a way that’s like watching someone walking into oncoming traffic while being focused on their smart-phone. The only person who accepts him the way he is would be his partner Nate (played by Nican Robinson), who is there for him even if he accidentally tells his kids how he screwed up on the job. What might be Thunder Road’s best quality though is its slightest flaw, as it might be a bit too loose-lipped, and could benefit from a little restraint.
That’s not to say the film doesn’t have its serious moments. The film has a dark edge to it, including a scene that is strikingly alarming when issues pile up beyond Arnaud’s capacity to deal with what’s been building up inside him. Some might argue that Cummings doesn’t give you enough insight into the protagonist’s state of mind or why he is so mercurial. While the film can be more cosmetic on the outside with its emotions-on-the-sleeve approach, you don’t get the background or flashback scenes for proper insight into what drove him there. Maybe, but I would argue that would be missing the point, as you never know what’s going on inside someone’s mind, especially when it comes to mental health. People aren’t mysterious, emotions are, and when they come out it can be hard to tell what happens next; that’s where Thunder Road lives, which is the source of its comic timing and its verve.
Thunder Road is a heartfelt comedy that is truly an independent film with a painfully funny trademark style that’s a throwback to awkward comedies like Clerks. Jim Cummings might be a jack-of-all-trades type in the Hollywood industry, but that’s not to say he is a generalist about his work; he seems to have mastered quite a bit in a short time. I wonder what he will come up with next.
M.N. Miller has been a film and television writer for Ready Steady Cut since August of 2018 and is patiently waiting for the next Pearl Jam album to come out.