American Fable is ambitious, maybe too much so sometimes, but there's an intense pleasure in the boldness of the film's style.
Sometimes parents act like parents, and sometimes they want to be your best friends. The ideal parents would be both, since either role in isolation can lead to unhappy teenagers. Since teenagers are by their nature unhappy anyway, perhaps this paragraph can end now.
"Thumbsucker" is about a bright but obscurely discontented 17-year-old named Justin (Lou Pucci), who still sucks his thumb. His parents are "Audrey" and "Mike" (Tilda Swinton and Vincent D'Onofrio), who like to be called by their first names. Audrey is still channeling her teenager within, and has a crush on a TV star named Matt (Benjamin Bratt). She sends in coupons from cereal boxes in hopes of winning a date with him. She may also be way too impressed by a celeb patient at the rehab center where she works. (Her family is intensely curious about her day job: "Who did you see? Matthew Perry? Whitney Houston? Robert Downey Jr.?")
Justin is embarrassed by his thumbsucking, especially when he gets a crush on a girl named Rebecca (Kelli Garner), who, like most girls nowadays, doesn't think it's cool for a thumb to get all the attention. Justin turns not to a shrink but to an orthodontist named Perry (Keanu Reeves). Perry tries hypnosis; when he asks Justin to walk in an imaginary forest and conjure his "power animal," the best Justin can come up with is a fawn. After all these years it's amazing he doesn't need braces, but instead he gets Perry's mantras: "You don't need your thumb and your thumb doesn't need you." Demonstrably not true.
Perry prescribes Ritalin, which he predicts will unharness Justin's inner power animal, or whatever. It does. Certain other pharmaceuticals occasionally make a contribution. Early in the movie Justin was dumbstruck when asked to rebut an argument in the speech class taught by Mr. Geary (Vince Vaughn), but he turns overnight into a confident, persuasive speaker who becomes the star of Geary's debate team. Geary coaches debate the way Mike Ditka coached football ("Be a stone-faced killer"). But even he grows uncomfortable with the inner animal Justin has unleashed, which turns out to be an egotistical monster.