Short films matter. Vimeo wants you to know it. So do we. That’s why we’ll be taking a weekly look at some of Vimeo’s best and brightest. This week, we bring you Jim Cummings’ awkward and hilarious Thunder Road.
The Plot: A grieving police officer attempts to eulogize his mother.
The Film: Sometimes big laughs are spawned from bleak circumstances. Thunder Road takes that notion to uncomfortable new heights and builds a complex human narrative somewhere in the space between.
Why Press Play?
There’s been a slew of films over the past few years aimed at building drama and humor on the awkward and embarrassing. Most of those films miss the mark when it comes to the drama. They miss the mark on the comedy as a result. Of course, there have been successes. Ricky Gervais is proof positive that the formula can work. But for every Ricky Gervais that pops up, there are a dozen wannabes that just don’t get it. Jim Cummings is not one of them. And Thunder Road is a near flawless addition to the complicated genre hybrid.
That begins with writing. And Cummings has written a darling of a screenplay for Thunder Road. On first glance, it’s a fairly easy bit of scripting. Set at the funeral of a beloved matriarch, Cummings’ story uses only one location and is built around a single performance. That performance comes by way of Cummings himself. Still, there’s nothing easy about Thunder Road. And Cummings sets an anxious tone right from the start. The film’s opening moments find his mournful son struggling to contain his nervous energy as he prepares to eulogize his mother. When the moment comes, the nerves take over. For several cringe-worthy moments he fumbles through thoughts and emotions he seems unable to comprehend. But there’s a beauty to the raw feelings that drive the scene. And Cummings skillfully wades through the tricky emotional terrain. He does so with a welcome sense of humor that never quite lets the action spin into the realm of unbearable – even when Bruce Springsteen’s ‘Thunder Road’ comes into play. But I’ll leave that for you to experience on your own.
Emotional roller-coaster that it is, Thunder Road remains an entertaining tale throughout. And it always has its heart in the right place. Even if it is a bit difficult to watch at times. It’s quite a lovely film to look at too. Much of the film’s humor and emotional intricacy stem from the decision to capture the action in a single, 12-minute take. Without a cut, the action unfolds with a potent sense of immediacy. DOP Drew Daniels manages that feat with the use of a mesmerizing, slow-push dolley shot. As Daniels’ camera gently advances, you feel the world closing in around the young man in frame. The claustrophobic effect is only tempered by the grim humor of the moment. It’s an impressive technical feat in and of itself. That it plays such a large part of the film’s emotional impact is what makes Thunder Road such a singular piece of cinema. One that you need to see for yourself.
Meet The Crew:
Written & Directed by: Jim Cummings Starring: Jim Cummings Director of Photography: Drew Daniels
I hope you enjoy Thunder Road! Jim Cummings’ film has spent the last year cleaning up on the festival circuit with awards from Sundance, SXSW, LA Film Fest and many more. If that weren’t enough, Cummings also served as Producer on another 2016 breakout, Trey Edward Shultz’s Krisha. Needless to say, Cummings’ name has landed on pretty much every ‘filmmaker to watch’ list this year. So make sure you’re watching, ’cause a feature is likely to be his next step. Let’s hope he carries the same twisted sense of humor into that project. While we’re waiting for Cummings’ next step, you may want to head over to his Vimeo Page and have look at some of the other projects he’s been working on over the past few years. Like Confusion Through Sand, an engrossing animated film that Cummings helped produce. While you’re looking around, be sure to have a look at a few of the thousands of short films – animated, live action and documentary – the kind souls at Vimeo have made available for your viewing pleasure (via desktop or mobile device – SWEET!). You’re sure to find something interesting and you may just stumble across the next great filmmaker.