SXSW 2018 Review: THUNDER ROAD

By Mark Saldana

Rating: 3.5 (Out of 4 Stars)

Based on the 2016 short film by the same name,  writer/director Jim Cummings, this feature film went on to win the Jury Award for Best Narrative Feature.  This Austin-based production delighted, amused and touched audience members as well.  Cummings stars as Police Officer Jim Arnaud, a mostly down-on-his-luck loser who has just recently lost his mother.  After delivering a painfully awkward eulogy at the funeral, Jim has made it his goal to be an outstanding parent for his daughter Crystal (Kendal Farr), as he owes much gratitude to his dearly departed mother.  As Jim goes out of his way to be a “super-dad,” he often goes too far and ends up worse off.  Still, Jim’s heart and motivations are genuine and it is not hard to sometimes be endeared with his attempt at parenting, though he often irritates and frustrates others in the process. 

This comedic, but sometimes poignant, movie often had me in tears from laughing so hard, but also genuinely warmed my heart.  Jim Cummings not only has written and directed a great film, he delivers a tour-de-force performance with a extraordinary range of emotions.  His character Jim Arnaud, as he does with the other characters in the film, will certainly elicit laughs, come across as grating, but will also tug on the heart strings when he’s out his most pained and vulnerable.  It is a tough tightrope to walk, as too much grating behavior could definitely turn audiences against him.  However, Cummings walks that fine line with passion, exuberance and finesse.

The film also features great performances by Kendal Farr, Nican Robinson, Chelsea Edmundson, Ammie Leonards, Bill Wise, and Macon Blair.  Though I don’t feel it is the best narrative feature I watched at the festival, I do rank this film highly and hold it in very high regard.  I do sincerely hope this festival movie gets picked up for distribution and will reach audiences in some format.  As talented a filmmaker and actor that Jim Cummings is, I would love to see him in more films, both in front of and behind the camera.

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