Jim Cummings was a producer on Patrick Wang’s “The Grief of Others” and Trey Shults’s “Kirsha” and one day, a friend of his told him that his mother had recently attended a funeral at which the dead woman’s son sang a song instead of giving a speech or reading the Bible. Then, he heard Springsteen’s “Thunder Road” and thought of his mother… And, that’s how his award-winning short “Thunder Road” was born.
With it he showed everyone who “the boss” is and no wonder he got such effusive praise on the festival circuit and the Internet. “Thunder Road” is indeed a crowd-pleaser and a wickedly funny, conceptually refined and meticulously crafted short. In fact, in one stroke – or better said, one single, unbroken take – Cummings demonstrates rigor in the form as well as a swayable and extravagant “LoL” choreography. Oh, and he even got the permission to use the song from Springsteen himself.
Directed and written by Cummings himself, “Thunder Road” follows Jimmy Arnaud, a cop, who eulogizes his mother, gliding from delightful embarrassment to real pain to something that swings between awesomeness and ridiculousness as he sings and dances to his mother’s favorite song, Bruce Springsteen’s “Thunder Road.” Cummings stars alongside Melissa Papel and William “Will” Daubert and they all deliver memorable turns.
Indeed, the tone shifts; laughs are humorous at the beginning even if he is acting ridiculous and then his pain shines through, real and palpable, thus humanizing his awkwardness and genuine sadness that resonate powerfully, enticing empathetic cry-laughs from this audience – the most impactful, in my opinion, being him looking at the casket right when Springsteen sings the verse “You ain’t a beauty, but hey, you’re alright.”
The short sketches complex family relationships using very few resources. In addition, the protagonist’s troubled performance of “Thunder Road” poignantly shows the complicated and slovenly ways in which music plays a significant role in people’s lives. In fact, with the impact of the lyric, we realize – as James does – that our mothers were also 16 at some point and that they might have gone through that same experience and realization. In that sense, “Thunder Road” also taps into old feelings – before he was born – but it is also a commentary about what comes after his mother is gone, the parents’ legacy, and how we take everything – even our progenitors – for granted when we are kids. Therein, James goes through another very fast-paced growing up and coming-of-age phase during his performance-based eulogy. And, with this short film Cummings did the very same as “Thunder Road” can be interpreted as a love letter and an apology to his own mother who is, thankfully, very much alive.
A timeless tribute to both parents and Bruce Springsteen, “Thunder Road” is an alternatively funny and heart-breaking story that will make us rethink our lives and help bring out the best in all of us.
Production: USA 2016
Producers: Jennifer Fink and Mark Vashro
Director: Jim Cummings
Screenplay: Jim Cummings
Cinematography: Drew Daniels
Music: Bruce Springsteen
Cast: Jim Cummings (James), Francesca I. Biasiolo (Crystal), Melissa Papel (Carissa), William “Will” Daubert (Police Chief), Mike Monosky (Police Officer), Kitty Barshay (Funeral Officer)
Color – 13 mins.
Premiere: 23/01/2016 (Sundance Film Festival)