Pros: Fine lead cast, some artistic direction and production, smart theme
Cons: Overworked premise, hard mixture of comedy and tragedy
The Chumscrubber (2005)
Directed by: Arie Posin
Written by: Arie Posin & Zac Stanford
Starring: Jamie Bell, Glenn Close, Ralph Fiennes, Carrie-Anne Moss
Upper-middle-class suburban dystopia and teen confusion have been popular fodder for movie directors in recent years. Such is the subject, for Arie Posin’s directorial debut. But with its mixture of subjects, themes and ironic, often bizarre, interweavings, “The Chumscrubber” does manage to put a fresh coat of paint on this often overworked genre. At worst it’s a prolonged parable about the lack of connection between parents and teens, and the consequences of being self absorbed and just not listening. When you consider the clever combination of storylines, slick humor, and dark imagery, it’s really not too bad of a movie at all.
“The Chumscrubber” finds its subjects in a fictional cookie-cutter Southern California suburb; a mountainous area that looks about as unlikely an area as possible for such a project. It’s easy to spot the irony here, especially for a resident of the Palm Springs area who constantly sees the dots to Los Angeles moving closer and closer together. It’s a mixture of entrepreneurial dads, lunching moms, and kids who pass time dealing in prescription happy pills. The town’s thrown for a bit of a loop when one of its teens hangs himself.
The hanging body is discovered by Dean (Jamie Bell) who decides not to tell anyone, basically because he’s socially awkward and knows that adults are really too busy doing their own stuff anyway. At school he’s a loner but suddenly becomes central in a plot to retrieve the deceased’s drug stash that apparently belonged to the meaner kids at school. Dean’s not interested, but the same kids kidnap his younger brother (actually nabbing the wrong kid) and with death threats issued Dean figures that he ought to just give them what they want.
It’s a ludicrous plot in many ways, the storyline of several botched up crime satires. But it serves a purpose. The parent’s of the younger kids don’t realize that he’s been kidnapped because they’re too tied up in their own agendas. Similarly, parents all around town have their heads stuck so far up their own behinds that they too fail to notice any wrongdoing in this or any aspect of their children’s lives. Even so, when perceived deficiencies are spotted, the panacea seems to be therapy and pills.
You can’t help but laugh at all this myopia and irony, but it’s a dark subject and elements of tragedy are introduced to add a little more impact to the message. There’s an element of caricature in all the adult leads but they all serve to portray real life roles particularly well. They’re played by a strong cast, including Ralph Fiennes, Glenn Close and Carrie-Anne Moss (briefly nude for Matrix fans). But with the brief exception of Close, the screenplay is never really too interested in digging too deeply into them, preferring to display them all on a purely superficial level. Maybe that’s the point, since we’re really seeing this through the eyes of the kids.
Surrounding all of this are some nice touches of artistic imagery, which at times turn to the surreal. The eponymous “Chumscrubber” is a character from a cartoon/video game. He’s an image of the opening hanged youth as he wanders a post-apocalyptic wasteland, with his head tucked under his arm, sometimes utilized as a bowling ball-like weapon. It’s a dark icon that borrows greatly from “Donnie Darko” and while it does add an element of coolness and we recognize its purpose, it’s not very well integrated into the storyline. There are some clever production points too, such as video images being superimposed and a modern alt-rock soundtrack that includes Placebo, Snow Patrol and Rooney.
Many will (in fact have) decry “The Chumscrubber” for its overworking of tried and tested themes. “Donnie Darko” and “American Beauty” are certainly among its ancestors. But you can’t deny the intelligent writing, nor the poignancy of its themes. Youth teens will empathize and parents should at least be able to recognize some of their own shortcomings. The cast, most notably Jamie Bell, is solid too. “The Chumscrubber” is a cool movie and it works. The only fault I could ultimately pick is in the mixture of tragedy and satire – not to spoil the ending.
Verdict: 3 ½ Stars Recommended