Feature Narrative Reviews

In Place of My Thumb (2020) – 2 stars

Director: Joseph Lawson

Writer: Joseph Lawson

Cast: Joseph Lawson

Running time: 43mins

Having gone through an extremely long creative draught, I was looking forward to the moment I would review a film again. I started looking forward to writing paragraphs, using my most advanced vocabulary; then deleting them because I wouldn’t be satisfied with the result; then having to explain to my editor why my review is again- and that sort of made me look forward to the creative process, honestly! And then I watched In Place of My Thumb. And that made me want to scream into a pillow, because I could tell early on it will be difficult to maintain my cool with this review. And this is the trip down my mind’s pit. 

The film sees writer/director/star Joseph Lawson revisit the traumatic event of his beloved girlfriend admitting to have cheated on him, repeatedly. He asks himself why he has the tendency of going through such a painful memory – which eventually unfolds a trip down to memory lane, riding by every traumatic event.

He remembers making a deal with grandpa to quit sucking on his thumb for as long as he wouldn’t smoke. Then came the big D, which does not stand for what you think. It is not a dog either, as a young Joe initially thought it was, but rather his parents’ divorce. Following that, we walk through his adolescence, we hear about his realisation of how oppressed his gay sister felt, the moment he decided to leave college, everything right up to the point he had the epiphany of becoming a filmmaker. As we ride alongside him in this journey of self-exploration, while the stories seem varied, there seems to be one uniting factor which becomes increasingly clear: Joe cannot handle change very well.

Strangely for a film about someone else, the rollercoaster that was In Place of My Thumb made me feel nostalgic, and frustrated all at once. It was hard to see why initially. There aren’t that many common denominators between my childhood and the creator’s, other than being a similar age, more or less, and both finding some sort of salvation in writing and film… Then I remembered the videos my friends and I used to make on our flip-phones back when we were teenagers, using the back alley of Starbucks as our set. We were using the same comedic approach to satirise characters that had a certain gravity – authority figures such as parents, teachers, older siblings, etc. 

But why does such a familiar concept feel so distant and frustrating? I should recognise myself and peers in it – so why has it upset me? And it hit me; in the era where Gen Z do close to professional video editing and visual effects on their phones, of course this video infuriates me. It comes as a surprise to see this end result by a professional filmmaker.

Don’t get me wrong, I fully grasp the difficulties of funding a project, and the impact the lack of slightly better equipment can have on the final product. To be fair to those Gen Z filmmakers though, while we might assert that funds do play a huge role in the access to best tools, on the other hand, there are a lot of free resources a filmmaker can benefit from. They do require a lot of time, patience and dedication (sometimes sleepless nights too, if you are stubborn), but they are available, and mean shoe-string budgets are less of an excuse for the way films look than they used to be.

Even without those tools, in all honesty, had there been some consistency in the use of effects (green screen manipulation, frame, black and white imagery or colour), there is a good chance I wouldn’t have had such a problem with the delivery of this film. As it is, though, there is noticeable lack of stylistic cohesion in this film, and it got me worked up.

With that being said, there is still something relatable about In Place of My Thumb. Joe is a Millennial like myself raised in the last years of a grand delusion that life comes easy, as long as you try – only to find himself trapped in a collapsing adulthood which highlights all the fallacies of societal conventions once thought of as certainties, such as “the one true love.” I get you, Joe, I really do.

This relatable experience still manages to shine through the film. While from a cinematic perspective this is a film that did not keep me engaged, due to its poor technical execution or ropey acting, there is something that is powerful here and it has to do with writing.

While Lawson is an amateur filmmaker, he is an experienced writer. If this was a stand-up comedy show, I would have been laughing my ass off. It has a lot of ingredients for success; sarcasm, reality, gimmicks that are very prominent in stand-up (like the changing of voice to mimic someone else) and the disappointing fact that life doesn’t come as easy as we thought it would, back when we were young enough to suck our thumbs for comfort.

Lawson has worked on his writing muscle a lot, and that shows. Instead of trying to be an expert in everything, why not work on the already existing skills and talents and become a master of that? I would be very curious to see him performing on stage, I can tell you that with certainty – but with regards to his next film? My romantic self will always be pleased to find commonalities amongst other Millennials, and how our expectations failed us, but beyond that it would be less of a priority.

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