It starts of as a tale of a kid out of the crowd having the habit which is an easy target for humiliation. I read about thumb sucking in http://www.wikipedia.org/ and as a kid it is common reflexes of comfort while it deteriorates the dental development if it goes above the age of 6 to 8. Justin goes through that and hence visits his dentist Perry (Keanu Reeves). Perry has something to say about philosophy every time Justin encounters him. He helps him in quitting it through hypnosis. It takes a wide turn of withdrawal effect. He becomes restless and frustrated. He behaves randomly and there on it is a procedure of falling and picking him up.
The movie could have migrated into the tedious pressurized high school scenario. And the insecure gloomy Justin with a habit being looked upon and teased upon would have been a typical story. Instead we rarely see him in the school sequences. He does participate in the debate team with Mr. Geary (Vince Vaughn), a teacher vacillating and procedural in operating the club. He is demanding but also observing. It shows how the kids who seem to have the potential are boosted up for recognition of the school in some scary manner as we find out.
Justin also finds his teenage love interest Rebecca (Kelli Garner). She is an environmentalist and Justin’s interest in debate team is somewhat influenced by her. They converse but Justin’s insecurity again pops up which Rebecca seem to be not “open”. But more importantly Justin’s journey is the revelation of something essential in a society of existence. The parenthood and the dynamics in bringing up a 17 year old kid are beautifully presented. Audrey (Tilda Swinton) longs for the days of going out and having fun. She fantasizes on winning a date with a soap opera star Matt Schramm (Benjamin Bratt). Justin is the young vibrant kid who is the connectivity to her with the world of fun and silly fantasies. Or maybe she needs more from her life. Mike (Vincent D’Onoforio) is the regular father. He of course does not like his son sucking his thumb and also seem to channel his deep void of thinking he is a failure of not making it up big in the sports towards Justin. The relation between Mike and Audrey is friendly yet distant. They are in the state of married life of judging and weighing their decisions and options they made and had in their life respectively. But that’s how a marriage works I guess. You miss those times and regret the bond of commitment and strong infatuation towards thinking things backward, but those are momentary with adverse effects. It is good to fantasize but the aftermaths never works. Audrey knows it even though we judge her along with Justin.
It is not alone about the insecurities and self confidence of a 17 year old kid, but the adults surrounding him living through the same questioning of life as he is. There is the urge to find the existential reasons and the solutions to the involuntary actions. The best thing some one could learn in life is identifying who they are and accepting it. The building blocks in shaping ourselves become the existential reasons. The solutions are the acceptance. The acceptance to yourself of the identity, even if it is ugly but unless you identify it things are brushed under the carpet. Justin brushes himself under the carpet. He looks for various avenues but astonished to see the adults deal with the same curiosity. And he has just started peeking into his very own adulthood.
End of it, the movie turns into moment of letting their kid go. I assume that watching an entity grow under their wings of shelter brings in the authority of love. They know the skin and blood of theirs. The intelligence moulds up in the kid by them. They are proud about the executions and application of it on others. Yet it burns when it sparks them. This moment of acceptance to them marks their culmination of parenthood but a lot of work to be done as human beings. Both Audrey and Mike completely understand their actions and its growth when Justin decides to leave.
There is a strong flavour of truth being neglected at the end of the movie. Justin writes to the university stating that his parents are mentally ill and his way of fighting through it did not get his expected grades. They do not expose this truth. I do not know the reason of it. It is something Justin might regret and suffer later in his life. It is true that his actions are random but the moment he gets the admission, he is sane enough to judge the fruit of opportunity through the seed of deviousness. To fathom the intentions did not give answers to me. But at least Justin overcomes the insecurity on his own which some day will help in accepting this mistake too. As Perry says, “That’s all we humans can do. Guess. Try. Hope. “