The Chumscrubber (2005)
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Taking place in some manufactured instant suburb in sunny California, the story (by director and co-writer Arie Posin with Zak Stanford) is framed around one Dean Stiffle (Jamie Bell - think of the meaning of the word stifle!), a lad who seemingly is alone among the hollow shells of high school kids who live through drugs/pills to alter their perception of a boring meaningless world. The source of their pills is Troy Johnson (Josh Janowicz) who in the first frames of the movie is discovered by Dean after Troy has hanged himself in suicide. Dean, though terrified at the horror of what he discovers, decides to not tell anyone 'because who would care anyway'. Life just goes on among the parents of the teenagers, not allowing anything to disturb their shallow lives: Troy's mother (Glenn Close) appears oblivious to her loss; Dean's mother (Allison Janney) is more concerned with cooking and is clueless as to interpersonal relationships with anyone including her author/psychologist husband William Fichtner whose world begins and ends in his latest book; Terry Bratley (Rita Wilson) whose time is consumed by her incipient wedding to the mayor (Ralph Fiennes) who has delusional behavior while fending off maladaptive behavior by her recently divorced spouse Officer Lou (John Heard); Mrs. Falls (Carrie-Anne Moss) who seduces even teenagers and any other man who comes into her gaze. These shells of parents have no clue or communication with their aimless kids, but the kids when discovering the source of their pills is dead, decide to go after psycho Dean to get the stash. In doing so they kidnap Charley whom they think is Dean's brother to convince Dean to raid Troy's stash. The manner in which all of this plays out is a veritable horror story of the amoral mindset of teenagers coping alone in the world with parents who elect to remain oblivious to their plights.
There are some lapses in continuity with the story, some editing problems, and some weak moments, but the overall message is a very dark, very real microscopic examination of our society. Jamie Bell is particularly outstanding as Dean, the only character who appears to have a remnant of conscience and soul. But the cameos by the wide range of stars are splendid. James Horner has once again managed to gel the story with his musical score, ending the credits with a rendition of the Graham Nash song "Our House'. As said before, the audience is polarized between love and hate/tolerance for this film. This viewer happened to love it. Recommended for all people concerned with our youth today - and their inadequate parents. Grady Harp
Although I was pleasantly surprised as famous face after famous face came on the screen, Jamie Bell (main character Dean) is without equal. In the Q&A session after the screening, the Director talked a little about wanting to make a movie that examined the hypocrisy and muted subjects of our culture. I think he hit the nail right on the head. He also talked about how they removed all pop culture references in the movie so that they could create their own archetype of pop culture-- the Chumscrubber. The characteristics of this comic book/video game hero are an allegory that can help you decode the messages of the movie. (On a comic note, he also said that once you see this movie you will see dolphins EVERYWHERE. When you see it, you'll know what I mean.) Screenwriter Zak Stanford said that a Chubscrubber is the worst job in the fishing village he grew up in. It's the person that has to mop the floor clean after everyone else has gutted and processed the fish. This movie, in part, discussed "what it would be like to have someone do that for you."
There are parts of this movie that are definitely funny. However, I didn't find myself laughing at all them because I couldn't shake the feeling that I would have been laughing at myself. I guess I'm saying that for those of us who find themselves seeking escape in a world that finds us trivial, there is a lot of truth in this movie. But don't worry... it also shows us the power a single human connection can have.
SEE/BUY/DISCUSS/ANTICIPATE/DEVOUR THIS MOVIE!!
P.S.- Don't be put off by trite descriptions of this film as a "tale of a young boy fending off the evils of suburbia." It really doesn't do it justice. It's fresh, fun, and moving.
Chumscrubber, which obviously belongs to the first group, is a rather unique and courageous satirical attempt of showing on the surface quiet and peaceful life of suburbia and middle class people there. Welcome to Hillside, a town where all people know each other and at the same time, no one of them cares much about others. But, the unexpected event brings some changes to a monotonous life of the town.
Dean Stiffle's best friend Troy, a teenager who supplied drugs to a local high school commits a suicide and a company of school tough guys believe that Dean knows where to find Troy's store. After the school, they kidnap Dean's brother Charlie but they make mistake and take a wrong Charley, thirteen years old Charlie Bratley. It's not completely a kidnapping; for some of them it looks just like a funny game and even for Charlie himself, big boys and a pretty girl at least for the first time is a funny company and amusing experience he have never had before. Dean gets a threatening call but to his surprise and relief, he sees his brother playing video games in a neighboring room. He expectedly gives "I don't care" answer and mistake soon will be revealed. Day passes but no one from adults don't see what's going on. They are totally absorbed in planning their personal lives and making own careers and unable to see anything above that. The only subject for Dean's father is his books on psychology, which he is trying to use on his son while his mother is elsewhere trying to sell some herbal medicine. They don't see that the family is falling apart and then his brother Charlie found a way to escape reality in video games, Dean, who is one of very few relatively normal teenagers, become an outcast among his schoolmates and withdraw into himself. Troy's mother spends all the time telling her neighbors that she doesn't blame them for her son's death. Divorced Charlie Bratley's mother for a long time has been planning her wedding with city's major, who becomes obsessed with a strange visions and ideas. She doesn't even notice his son's disappearance and talking to him through a closed door. Billy who is the head of the company and its inspirer bring Charlie to his home but his parents also don't see anything special. "It's for school" is a perfect answer that assures everyone that everything is on its tracks and in order. Even a direct truth is taking as a joke. The children are completely left on their own and soon Dean realizes that nobody's noticed that a kid is not home for a long time and he's the only one who could do anything to resolve a conflict even if it is no concern of him.
The movie cast unites too many famous actors for a small budgeted indie movie. The adult actors always have good performances of their satirical characters, but they are mostly the background of the story, where the main stars are young actors and their characters. Jamie Bell (mainly known for his first role in Billy Elliot) who is playing the main young character is excellent and his ability of creating required accent deserves the highest praises. Justin Chatvin is strong enough as a company leader Billy and the youngest of characters, Thomas Curtis as Charley Bratley steal the show in a couple of crucial moments.
Such rather absurd satirized image of selfish behavior combined with blissful ignorance works pretty well with adult characters in the movie. This is satire that doesn't make you laugh watching the movie, its just make you think why such things could happen. Unfortunately, on the contrary, important young characters are underdeveloped and sometimes the movie doesn't give us a reasonable explanation for their acts and way of behavior. The story itself also has perceptible lapses and problem points, which don't let creating a complex image and evoke obvious questions. However, despite some problems with characters, continuity flaws and possible overusing of symbolism without a certain need, the director was able to make a mostly captivating picture that brought me to deep thoughts for a while. The main problem is that the movie and its intensive climax don't give any solution or escaping for the situation as well as it doesn't give the answer for above mentioned question why such Hillsides are possible. The Chumscrubber is a striking contrast to mainstream movies, a movie that obviously worth seeing and makes you think, but because of its perceptible flaws and partly narrow-minded approach, it's unable to reach complete success.
8 out of 10
Some will be pre-emptive as the film is about drugs, teenagers, high school, bullying and well-worn characters with a cool soundtrack thrown in for good measure. Yet through utilising some inventiveness the film re-tells the clichés of the classic dramatic traditions of tragedy and comedy via a funeral and a wedding and rewards the viewer with the questioning and re-evaluation of such tragedy and comedy.
The film centers on the life of Dean Stiffle, a high school student growing up in the suburbs of California. His father, played by William Fitchner, is the author of self help books. When Dean walks in to discover that his best friend has killed himself, he does not bother reporting this to the friend's parents, who are hosting a party. He later explains that he thought that no one would care.
Dean's reaction to the suicide sets the tone for this deeply cynical, yet unfunny, satire. As the convoluted plot continues to develop, a group of local thugs tries to coerce Dean to reclaim the drug stash of his dead friend. They do so by kidnapping a boy who they believe to be Dean's brother. However, they kidnap the wrong boy, leading to a confusion of identities, and many opportunities for humor that are quickly lost in this dense film.
The reaction at Sundance to this film was mixed, with perhaps half of the audience reacting as I did, and the other half claiming to have enjoyed it.
My take on this film is that is was entirely devoid of heart and humor, and failed in its attempts to entertain.
One scene that does work comes at the end of the film, between Dean (Jamie Bell) and the mother of his dead friend (played by Glenn Close). Dean is the only person to show up for his friend's memorial service, and he consoles the boy's mother.
If you are over the age of 17 and have a fully functioning brain, I can't imagine what you would enjoy about this movie.
The all-star cast is squandered on a tired story that doesn't go anywhere. The dialogue is weak, as it fails to be clever, memorable, funny or informative. The cinematography is completely vanilla. The characters are annoying and overdrawn. The plot is a joke, as we are repeatedly hit over the head with the "original" and "impressive" idea that parents just don't pay attention to their darn kids anymore!?!
And The soundtrack is stolen from your local 14 year old's iPod.
Calling this movie a "dark comedy" is like calling Paris Hilton a serious actress.
I've seen some of the crazy things kids do today. I'm only 29, but already the generation below me is doing crazier stuff than mine did. I don't think this movie is placing blame on any one thing. That's an over-analyzation of the point. It's a snapshot of some of the crazy things in our society and the viewer is supposed to decide for himself why society is so messed up. It's not like you can blame any one thing for the way society is anyway, so saying that this movie does that, is absolutely ludicrous and misses the point. The only thing to blame is ourselves. Not video games. Not suburbia. Not drugs. We are to blame. That's the point crack head with his one star review misses. He thinks too much about it and tries to fault it for things it didn't even try to do.
It's fine if you don't like a movie, but be reasonable about it.
A couple of things you notice straight into the movie are Jamie Bell and the art of casting against expected type. On the casting issue it's a surprise to see Glenn Close playing a sweet wholesome mother, and Carrie-Anne Moss playing a sultry temptress, a woman who is attracted to the strength of others. These two casting choices hit me as quite a surprise, against expected type, and superbly chosen. As for Bell, he's superbly believable and draws you into the movie with an amazing performance.
Rory Culkin is another great showing, often the performances of the actors who play baddies are overlooked, after all it's easy to play a baddie isn't it? Yet that's just not true, especially with this character. He's malevolent, controlling, but there's a streak of uncertainty and self doubt through the character, and he pulls this off perfectly.
Not all the younger actors are so great though, Lou Taylor Pucci really does play the same character from Thumbsucker, it's a very similar role. His performance in the final scenes was much better, and very disconcerting. Actually it would have been much better, and in keeping with the against type casting in this movie, to cast him against his previous role.
Camilla Belle was another strong performance and you can clearly see what she is going to become. She certainly has the potential to be a great Hollywood actress, her eyes, the underlying passion, all the features are there that will make her a Hollywood sex symbol.
The layering of the two sides of life in the Chumscrubber world is very well created. As they intertwine they pass each other with confusion, misunderstanding and resentment, but just keep on going almost unnoticed. The adults coming dangerously close to the events of the teenagers' lives, almost grasping the actuality of what is happening, and either missing the point or choosing to avoid it totally.
The perfect example of this is seeing the Mayor and his wife carry on towards their wedding day plans avoiding the fact that their son appears to be missing, and that that life in general seems to be falling apart around them. It's the ignorance of the adults caught in their self obsessed lives that's more amusing than anything, and although overplayed for the movie, it's not all that far from reality.
Comedy is sparse and quite dark and when they come they are uneasy moments. When you laugh and are then suddenly hit by the seriousness, it's funny, but am I laughing at the wrong bits? It's a strange feeling, and does add to the unease throughout, a feeling that fits well with this movie and slowly builds to the incredibly uneasy climax.
Glenn Close and Jamie Bell are excellent. Close's character begins to crack from the start, the first signs that the spectacularly insular lives of the adults is about to crumble. She plays this really well, and moves through a range of emotions with apparent ease. This is especially obvious when a scene near the end of the movie brings Close and Bell together. Close naturally smiles with tears streaming down her face, one of the saddest things to see from a human being, while Bell struggles with his emotions and delivers a heartfelt speech. I really felt for these characters at this point, and it was easy to connect with them and understand their pain.
The climax of the teenager plot line is very strong, you're right there in the awkwardness of the situation, feeling for them as circumstance and manipulation build around them to force events. I shan't give anything away, suffice to say you can feel the tension and pressure as it grows, and you're very aware of how events suddenly drop out of their hands having just gone too far to control.
However, the very end of the movie is quite contrived and annoying, and it does seem to grate for such a good movie. Yet there's not enough here to hurt the movie, not enough to make me wish I hadn't watched or to make you feel short changed or cheated. No, it's a bit poor, but it's not the true climax of the movie.
There's one other thing I didn't like, the Chumscrubber itself is based on a computer game character that some of the teenagers play through the movie, usually in the background. It's also the character that provides us with a prologue and epilogue and some voice overs on the way. Yet I couldn't make any connection, or understand any relevance for this character to be here, sure it's used in a few scenes, but just as background noise. There seemed to be no other connection than that of adding a computer game connection to the teenagers' lives. It wasn't needed, I found myself confused and distracted by it, and I really think the movie would have been better without it.
What this movie is good for, are some great castings, and the excellent performances by the actors playing the teenagers. I was very surprised at just how strong Jamie Bell really is, and my feelings for Glenn Close (as an actress) were just reinforced from watching the last season of The Shield.
This has a great plot, some great actors and performances, and is a thoroughly enjoyable movie that does have some things to say about adults and teenagers. It's not really rocket science, don't analyse them, listen to them.
Ralph Fiennes, Rita Wilson and Glenn Close are great, and the young adults are strong, especially Jamie Bell and Justin Chatwin. Camilla Belle and Carrie-Anne Moss (who plays her mom) are hot.
There are laughs, but overall, this is a dark movie. If you like "American Beauty", "Donnie Darko" and "Desperate Housewives", then you'll like this. In fact, this could've been called "Desperate Teenagers".
The satire is sharp, well-written, & a perfect foil for our modern society. This is "Leave it to Beaver" meets "Halloween" in some ways; suburbia is not what it appears, & danger is lurking in every sunny, well-planned street. The parents, in my opinion, have the same kind of moral disconnect---leaving no moral impressions upon their children for them to learn & grow with---that one imagines could happen with those who "act out" as the Columbine killers or the Virginia Tech killer did...No one paid any attention; no one had the depth to care & notice that something was terribly amiss. Everyone is so busy with "activities" that no one has any awareness.
This is a great little gem of a movie that is well worth your time---don't miss it!
The film centres around a young, disillusioned male named Dean (Bell) and his relationship with his distanced family on one strand with his dangerous and temperamental relationship with a small gang of other youths, lead by the drug-dealing sociopath Billy (Chatwin), on the other. Dean's family are initially presented to us by way of some interestingly alienating camera work, creating an entrenched sense on the audience's behalf that we're meant to share with the lead and how he views these people. Dean's father, a successful author and psychiatric doctor named Bill (Fichtner), has his back to us in a relatively long and unbroken take as we waltz around the family's kitchen and living room area; the little brother fixated on a shallow and vacuous computer game, the wife/mother on the phone speaking about whatever suggesting whiffs of domesticisation; while Bill weaves in and out of the place with his back to the camera, it's the closest we get to a form of identification of him.
The film has that disconnected sensibility about it, that parents and their children are never quite on the same plain, indeed a police officer's son is essentially kidnapped very early on but doesn't quite realise until much later; other parents allow their problems, trivial things such as making sure order amidst who is in ownership of various pots and pans amongst neighbours is intact furthering that sense of depressing domesticisation as the vacuous gushing over the purchasing of dresses in locals stores hammer home the point. When we observe the self-obsessed and self-indulgent attitudes these adults possess, we realise this sort of disconnection and emptiness can, supposedly, lead only to bullying; drug-dealing and knife play amongst kids as the one relationship between young and old family members of any note sees Dean's father exploit him and his psychological situation in drawing on example of him in his books and experimenting through him the effects of certain pills. But around all of this, we are invited into looking at this interesting, intrinsic little narrative Posin has weaved linked to Dean and his ongoing feud with Billy plus his cohorts: a deputy in Lee (Taylor-Pucci) and the teenage femme-fatale of sorts Crystal (Belle), of whom have brought into their possession young Charlie (Curtis) whom they have mistaken for Dean's brother, who's also called Charlie and played by Macaulay's younger brother, Rory Culkin.
Posin's integrating of this plot around all of this substance is well crafted, here's a film that renders most of the adults childish and infantile in their actions and behaviours but the manner in which the adolescents behave see them strut around as if they were fully grown men and women living a life of potential sleaze, crime and terror. The comparison calls to mind a grossly underwhelming 2006 independent American film named Brick, a film that fed off similar ideas not purely limited to genre, in its providing us with child leads and adult supporting characters but arriving with one too many frustrations to truly get involved. The reason for the gang of three doing what they did in abducting Charlie was with the assumption he was related to Dean and would be used as an item of threat to force Dean into attaining a stash of drugs in a young man named Troy's room. Troy was a recent victim of suicide and Dean's only friend; himself occupying a room or living quarter significantly cut off from the rest of his parents' house enforcing that alienated feel. From here, a narrative of intrigue and pot boiling unravels around these youths as sub-plots to do with adults played by a pretty meaty supporting cast and their own issues unravel as well.
Posin's direction of the cast he's overseeing is wonderful, getting the best out of his predominantly young string of acting talent playing some rather tough roles wonderfully well as the elder members of the cast succeed in essentially 'dumbing-down' their characters so as to enhance that prominent distinction between younger and elder. The Chumscrubber is not a shallow film, it is a film about shallow people living a shallow existence and the hollowness of life in this would-be idyllic set up, the kind of which turns out to be truly ugly once on the inside; and I shall watch out for further projects from the man in the future.
A very large cast of disaffected and alienated individuals populate pretty suburban "Hillside". Most of them pop pills. "The Chumscrubber" video game has about as much to do with the storyline as The Blue Dolphins in Ralph Fiennes' mind. The film gets weird too late, and too little. Its soundtrack music is good, though - and, director Arie Posin manages the very capable and engaging cast well.
****** The Chumscrubber (1/25/05) Arie Posin ~ Jamie Bell, Camilla Belle, Glenn Close, Justin Chatwin
Every actor in The Chumscrubber will go on from this movie and become new people and new faces all over again, never to be remembered strictly as "that guy in The Chumscrubber". This is not to say that their characters were not memorable or dynamic; it is quite the opposite, for their characters were incredibly and intensely dramatic composites. It is more that they themselves, as actors and actresses, define the roles they play rather than the roles defining their careers. Truly, Mark Hamill, for example, will always be remembered as Luke Skywalker (in fact, I'm sure many people don't know him as anything but "Luke"), but there are very few who would define Harrison Ford as simply Han Solo.
Unlike many recent movies, with several different climaxes (taking away from the implied orgasmic excitement of a grand finale), the story builds from a disturbingly calm beginning to the tension of a Parkinson's patient constructing a card house. The so-called-sane's irrationality outlining the few truly sane individuals' frustration in the movie is enough to make the viewer want to punch someone in the face just to release the tension. With orchestral magnificence, all the players contribute to the winding array of viewpoints with their own unique (but commonly mad) personalities binding their fates.
All the right ingredients were in place to create the ultimate cake of disaster: the absurdity of trivial obsessions; self-absorbed hypocrites; the influence of "the mob"; uncontrollable, chip-on-their-shoulder teens; and, of course, drugs in suburbs. Ironically, each of the above mentioned function perfectly together without interruption or question...until one drop of sanity is thrown into the mix.