Spoilers might need to take a few days off.
I learned this film existed by word of mouth. A drama and a comedy at the same time (I guess the made-up term “dramedy” applies) that taps into the uncomfortable niche of personal tragedy and personal growth. I never managed to find it on any local movie festivals until I suddenly noticed it on Netflix. The wait was worth it, and you’re better off watching it first so stop now and do that. Here’s a hint, it’s not the comedy that sells it.
Thunder Road (2018) was written and directed by Jim Cummings who also stars as its main character, a police officer named Jim Arnaud. When we meet him, he has just lost his mother and has been divorced for a year from wife Rosalind (Jocelyn DeBoer). They have a nine-year old daughter named Crystal (Kendal Farr) who Jim gets to see on the weekends. Jim’s completely distraught at his mother’s death and that combined with social awkwardness contributes to him trying to make some sort of tribute to his mother’s dancing past. The movie puts this scene right in the beginning, eliciting a smile, because as we’re sure to learn, personal tragedy is having a toll on Jim.
We soon find out Jim’s not the best at living his life alone. Without his mother and wife, he seems adrift. His partner, officer Nate Lewis (Nican Robinson) tries to keep him above water, but Jim is not eager to let himself be helped. As his personal issues escalate, he soon finds out his ex-wife wants to move and obtain sole custody.
This is one of the those films were the more you get to know the character, the more the tragic events in his life become less funny and more dramatic. He’s not a bad guy, just someone who takes bad decisions on impulse. If Jim is guilty of something is of not seeking help when he so obviously needs it. He’s sort of a pretender that hasn’t realized that he cannot be the rock all the time, his police training is nothing compared to the adult life of a man who’s lost his mother and now risks losing his own daughter. I saw it more as a man who desperately needs therapy and should stop listening to his instinct. In other words, he has to admit to himself that he doesn’t know what he’s doing.
Jim’s later meltdowns are tinted with deeper desperation. I can only imagine that in his life, balance always came from his mother and wife. Now he’s alone and unable to relate or even converse to his daughter Crystal. On the other side, Crystal does not seem to regard his father as an adult or with much respect. The performance of young Kendal Farr is quite nuanced. You do see shades in which she seems to give his father a few lifelines to hang on, although as any child she’s impatient – she wants his father to be an adult. Sometimes she does come off as callous because she disregards him altogether, and Jim’s frustration comes off as genuine. He never loses it with her daughter, but you can perceive he knows he’s not getting to her.
The ending has a bit of pet peeve of mine, where circumstances mostly left to our imagination allow him to have a chance with being a father again. The way that last twist is handled is a bit ambiguous and I really wish it hadn’t happened at all. An ending with Jim finding the resolve to put his life back on track rather than a tragedy for someone else that gives him sort of a break feels darkly fortuitous. That’s sort of my only reservation and being that it’s basically with the ending I kinda can let it slide. The cringe-y tone does remain throughout the whole movie so some audiences might find it too over the the top.
Highly recommended as more of a drama than a comedy. Casual crowds expecting to laugh out loud the whole way through might feel cheated. I’d still recommend it since it works best when you’re not expecting it. I was laughing a lot less but was more interested in the character of Jim as he became more engaging despite (or maybe because of) his inability to navigate basic social norms. It’s like he’s that one guy that everyone puts up with because he doesn’t get it, but nobody is ever honest with to avoid hurting his feelings. Life, on the other hand, never has reservations about being honest nor cruel.
That will do for now.