The opening of Thunder Road is one of the most cringingly hilarious scenes of 2018. The rest of the movie never quite reaches the level of awkward humor in that opening number, but it comes close.
Essentially, the entire scene is a single shot, comprised of the award-winning short film that was the basis of this feature. A police officer is invited to speak at his mother’s funeral. She was beloved, and he’s devastated. That all sounds normal, but the way he says his goodbye raises alarm. This uniformed officer of the law decides to perform an extended dance to Bruce Springsteen’s “Thunder Road,” but the CD player won’t work. Though he continues to talk about his mother and break down into tears, he’s still moving to unheard music in an unfortunate, though hilarious dance routine. His commitment is both admirable and questionable, which is quite the introduction to this complex character.
Officer Jim Arnaud is played by film’ writer/director, Jim Cummings. The dance was not the beginning of his troubles in life, but the death of his mother is the catalyst for a lot of other things leading to a downward spiral. Prior to this, his estranged wife was getting their divorce papers ready and Jim had been suspended from work for making a few poor decisions on duty. It just keeps getting worse for him.
Watching the mental breakdown of a man should not be this funny. Granted, the kind of humor generated by Jim’s misfortune is more borne of breaking tension than of jokes, but it’s very effective in that. Jim’s descent includes plenty of yelling, a bit of stripping, and even more realizations that Jim is not really great at life. He’s okay at his job, and an okay dad, but overall has no places where he truly excels and is the best version of himself. Perhaps this Jim is as good as it gets.
The film has certain points at which the tragedy of the character’s life takes over and the audience is given no humorous release. These honestly sad moments are treated with appropriate weight, and show that Cummings is capable of more than just awkward comedy. The rapid sway between the two can give a bit of cinematic whiplash, but Jim’s experiences feel real enough to be given a pass. Life itself can be just as absurd as Jim’s version of it.
Thunder Road is currently having a limited theatrical run in various cities over the coming weeks. Dark, quirky humor like this is best consumed with a crowd. If that at all sounds appealing to you, definitely check it out.