I came across Jim Cummings a few years ago when he debuted Thunder Road, a short film he had written, directed and starred in. The short involved Cummings dancing/singing to the titular Springsteen song of the same name at his mother’s funeral. It was a funny, heartfelt and emotional little short. After receiving awards and acclaim for that short, Cummings decided to adapt the short into a feature film. After shooting the film last year in Austin, Thunder Road debuted at this year’s SXSW, and my God what a debut it is. Thunder Road is a quiet, beautifully made film and a triumphant debut for Jim Cummings.
Thunder Road expands on the short with the first scene of the film being a recreation of the short, and then going on from there. Jim is a cop in Austin, Texas who is having a very rough go-around. His mother that he loved dearly has just passed away, his wife is filing for divorce and wants sole custody of their child Crystal, and he’s stumbled on some financial troubles in the process. In the middle of all this, he’s just trying to be a better father to his kid without having a mental breakdown due to the stress going on in his life, both as a cop and in his personal life.
The film has a very DIY and personal touch to the film, with Cummings taking on many duties with this film. On top of writing, directing and starring in the film, he helped with the editing of the film, the music was composed by him, and he had other tasks with the film. It feels deeply personal for the director, and it shows in the finished project. Cummings is pouring his heart and his soul into this character and the story, and it’s really a magnificent sight to behold. I really hope that Cummings is able to breakout after this screening (the film is playing in competition here).
The film is just as heartbreaking and sad as it is funny, and the fact that even in the very first scene of the film, you’re laughing almost as much as you’re tearing up. The opening scene is beautifully done, with how it’s all one long take of Jim eulogizing his mother. There’s a lot of pain going on in this man’s life, and the funeral itself is the cultivation and bubbling up of all of Jim’s problems, and how it all comes crashing into him all at once. Very few actors could be able to pull that off, and Cummings does it damn near flawlessly. And the fact that he also juggles writing, directing, and other duties with the film is a testament to Cummings talent as an artist. The rest of the cast, which if I’m correct is a mix of LA and Austin-based actors, are all really terrific in the film. Kendal Farr plays Jim’s daughter in the film, and their relationship is the heart and soul of this film. Nican Robinson plays Jim’s partner in the police department, and Chelsea Edmundson in a brief role plays Jim’s sister, and they’re both very good in those respected roles.
Thunder Road kind of blew me away, to be honest with you. I had high hopes going into this film because I loved the short film that it was based on (full disclosure: when I found out this film was going into production I donated a little bit of money to the Kickstarter fund), and this film exceeded my expectations. It’s a quiet, beautiful, powerful, funny, tragic and heartwarming picture, and easily the best I’ve seen at this festival so far. If you’re in town for this festival, I can’t urge you enough to go see this film as it’s screening a few more times during the festival. I feel like I saw something truly special yesterday, and I hope you feel the same way when you see the film.