We first meet Officer Jim Arnaud (Jim Cummings) as he frantically attempts to mash batteries into a child’s portable stereo whilst welcoming people to an event. The event it transpires is his mother’s funeral and he is soon called upon to give his eulogy. The following twelve minutes (actually the original short film this was based on) are quite the ride. Filmed in one take, we see Jim attempting to deal with decades of built up emotion as he tries to give his mother the send off she deserves. It’s a bravado piece of film-making, unflinching (the camera never strays from Cummings so we are forced to concentrate only on him), hilarious, uncomfortable and ultimately a perfect encapsulation of a man with no facility whatsoever for dealing with the emotions he is experiencing. Good job we’re not all like that….
Written and directed by Cummings from his own short movie, this is clearly a very personal tale for him and he inhabits the character entirely. Jim’s life is full of things he is ill equipped to deal with. He is going through a divorce which will likely see his young daughter placed with the obviously unsuitable mother and current boyfriend, he is struggling to fund the lawyers to deal with this, he is having to act as executor to his late mother’s estate and he is trying desperately to be a good parent. Something has to give and when it does, a wave of grief is unleashed that sees him close to losing everything.
The movie does a great job of marrying the cringe inducing laughs with the serious subject matter and it’s complete credit to Cummings that his character manages to come off as sympathetic despite being one sad-ass individual. Equally, the humour is dealt with well so we never feel that we are being forced to choose between laughter and taking the subject as seriously as it deserves.
In truth, the ending is a little too neat to be believable but by then Cummings has earned a pass. Laugh out loud funny, even as you’re squirming, achingly relatable in its handling of repressed male grief and ultimately really quite touching, Thunder Road is a bruising experience but a thoroughly worthwhile one. Oh, and Kendal Farr is magnificent in her first role as Jim’s daughter Crystal - hopefully we’ll be seeing her again.