The Chumscrubber

| August 17, 2005

Starring such greats as Glenn Close, Ralph Fiennes, Carrie-Ann Moss, Rita Wilson, Allison Janney, and Jason Isaacs, and with a young adult cast that is equally impressive in talent – Jamie Bell (Billy Elliot, Undertow, Dear Wendy), Camille Belle (The Ballad of Jack and Rose), Justin Chatwin (War of the Worlds), and Lou Taylor Pucci (Thumbsucker), The Chumscrubber is an ensemble piece that is as dark as it is hilarious, as grotesque as it is effective. It is a film that must actually be seen to appreciate the subtle surrealism it employs to maintain the point of view of a troubled teenager appalled by the actions of the people surrounding him.
From the beginning of the film in which Jamie Bell’s character Dean discovers his best friend’s hanging body and leaves without informing anyone, it is quite apparent the detachment that exists between the teenagers and the adults. The Chumscrubber is yet another movie in which its young characters seem to be the only ones remotely aware – the adults are so petty and caught up in their own lives that they don’t realize when their children are in trouble. Dean’s psychiatrist father prescribes him the very same medication to which he is already addicted; Rita Wilson’s Terri Bratley is so concerned with her oncoming marriage to the Mayor that she fails to notice her child has been kidnapped; Mr. And Mrs. Parker are far more annoyed by the inconvenience of their son Lee asking for help than they are concerned. It is this kind of dark pessimism that communicates the contempt of young adulthood toward the parents that still pretend to have control.
As if the negligence of the parents weren’t enough for Dean to deal with, he is suddenly thrown into a dangerous situation due to his best friend Troy’s death. One of the head drug dealers at school, Billy (Chatwin) is determined that Dean will bring him Troy’s stash of narcotics, or face the consequences. Dean finds himself drawn into this plot no matter how hard he resists, a situation that doesn’t seem to be helped by the beautiful Crystal (Belle). Unfortunately Billy soon seems to lose it entirely, completely indifferent to the horrible means to which he is willing to descend to capture the elusive pills, or whom else he hurts in the process.
The film will definitely instigate conflict among its audience, as I witnessed the other night at a Q&A following the screening I attended. The director, Arie Posin, mentioned that various people actually see an entirely different movie than those surrounding them in the theatre, and I think he’s right. The perception I’ve formed after two screenings of this film was severely disparate from the opinions formed by much of the older moviegoers. Several of them wasted no time in sharing their disdain for the characters, voicing that there was nothing redeemable to be found in any of them, and that the parents were completely over the top and unrealistic. I was surprised to hear this – it is quite apparent from the several elements of surrealism in the film that it is not meant to be an accurate portrayal of reality. The adults’ actions are exaggerated as they are viewed through Dean’s eyes and the harsh judgment that he reserves for them. The adults behave like children, and the children as adults. The title video game that commands its presence throughout the film alludes to the horrible ridiculousness of it all. The Chumscrubber takes advantage of such devices to stab you in the gut with its message warning against artificial suburbia and the apathy and destruction it can breed with its disregard.
I find the film as hard to watch as it is captivating. There are moments when several of the characters’ actions completely disgust me, but like a bad car accident, I can’t seem to tear my eyes away. However, throughout the amusing negativity of the film, there is hope and compassion to be found in the character of Dean; even though this young man is addicted to prescription pills, thought to be crazy by almost all of his classmates, and completely antisocial, he is remarkably relatable – an element that is heavily due to Jamie Bell’s superb performance.
Although his performance is stellar, none of the actors are overshadowed by their colleagues, and nor is the strong and clever script outdone. There is a wonderful creative balance at work here, forming an intelligent film that is decidedly not accommodating to light, entertainment-seeking movie goers. Only serious movie watchers may apply – but please do.

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