Move aside Napoleon Dynamite, for there is a new lord of dance. Step up recently separated police officer Jim Arnaud (Jim Cummings, who also writes and directs) who at his mother’s funeral breaks down during delivering her eulogy. To her memory, he will dance to her favourite song Thunder Road by Bruce Springsteen. But his daughters pink portable CD player won’t work, but that won’t stop him. This is the beginning of a long meltdown that Jim refuses to seek professional help but trying his best to keep together as he is on the fringes of losing his job. His relationship with his young daughter (a very excellent Kendal Farr) is constrained as he can’t find a way to bond with her and finds her favouring her mother more and more adding to Jim’s anguish. When his wife serves him divorce papers seeking full custody, he must make his case for joint custody. But when footage of his public meltdown resurfaces, he is set to lose the only thing that was worth fighting for.
Originally adapted from his award winning short of the same name, Cummings is a tour de force as the deeply troubled Jim Arnauld. Not the sharpest tool in the shed, but Arnaud seems well meaning enough and pulls off a character who is equally comic as he is tragic. Which is fairly emphatic giving without this sensitive edge that Arnauld would be a fairly traditional sitcom character. Not often can a filmmaker or actor make you feel utter empathy but then ready to burst with laughter in the same moment. Part of the magic of the film are the countless times Jim Arnaud inability to put pause to the stream of thoughts he just emotionally bursts out with, whether it be losing it in front of his fellow police force, the funeral or to his daughter’s elementary school teacher (played by Indie god Macon Blair). What is also a joy is that for a cast of unknowns, there never feels like a weak link.
It’s not the most perfect script. There are often strands started that you think might lead to somewhere and don’t, plus there are some events that happen are not wholly driven by the character, particularly when we reach the climax. But these are all forgivable because Thunder Road is a side-splitting riot of a film and true indie triumph. It’s well noted how comedy is overlooked at the Oscars as if it were Jim Cummings’s eulogy is one of the finest comic performances on screen, more astonishing when considering he is largely unknown as an actor. It’s truly startling what a feat this is giving Jim Cummings writes, stars, directs and edited it. A new indie king in the making, I can’t wait for what he brings next.