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Movie review: The Chumscrubber April 19, 2008

Posted by ashiah in old.
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Oh, these youth today. With their strange music, questionable behavior and disregard for rules and organization. Thank goodness grownups can pop them with pills so they can shut up and stop acting like kids for once. Then the adults can dwell on their mundane cocktail parties and neighborhood get-togethers, all while secretly envying the youth they pretend to hate.

Of course, the paragraph above is only true if you’re a fan of sweeping generalizations. But this is the typical life depicted in “The Chumscrubber,” a film that takes a dark and sarcastic look at youth relations in suburbia. In their world, all kids are unhappy, pill popping misunderstood rebels, while the adults are social climbing, unhappy soul suckers. Think you heard this before? You’re right, you have. But let’s move on anyway.


William Fichtner shows the productive way to keep kids off your lawn.

Jamie Bell plays Dean Stiffle, a social outcast who walks in the on the suicide of his only friend . Not knowing what to do, he leaves the scene of the crime without telling anyone what he saw. He is constantly teased and taunted by his pill happy peers who hold him partially responsible. His father (William Fichtner) is a self-help author who believes his son is mentally unstable and forces him to take pills (hence the not-so-subtle jab at the Ritalin generation).

Events change when a few drug dealers from school mistakenly kidnap a kid they thought was Dean’s younger brother in order to blackmail Dean into stealing back a secret stash of drugs in his best friend’s room. During all of this, the secondary plot follows their parents who are more preocuppied with planning their weddings, funerals and cocktail parties than be bothered to pay attention to their children.

The “chumscrubber” is actually a title of a video game that is omnipresent in the kids’ lives and is about a post-apocalyptic anti-hero that carries around a severed head while fighting off the drones of the Earth. The point of chumscrubber is to parallel his existence to what is happening within the suburban neighborhood and is also seen as a representation of Dean as well.

The parents are all played by well-known actors, such as Glenn Close, Ralph Fiennes, Carrie-Anne Moss and Rita Wilson. Their presence in the film is somewhat odd, and perhaps it was from the direction by Arie Posin, but they all come across as vacant beings from another planet. Their characters seem like exaggerated stereotypes of real people and are too easily depicted as the bad guys leading their children down a path of destruction.

All of the kids are played convincingly enough (excluding Camille “Dead Eyes” Belle) and bring a sense of suspense to the movie when events begin to get a little too bizarre. Unfortunately, actors can only carry a movie to an extent. Although Posin’s critique on the prescription generation, suburbia and parent/teen relations are interesting, it’s not done well. Considering these types of movies have been done before and done better, “The Chumscrubber” just seems like someone’s red-headed stepchild. Yes, we know suburbia isn’t perfect. Yes, parents don’t listen to their children. If anything, there should have been more concentration on the growing use of prescription drugs by children, but this theme is merely brushed over.

Probably the biggest criticism against “The Chumscrubber” is there is no believability here. This just doesn’t feel like the real world. Although I’m not a realist, I can tell when a movie could perhaps benefit from a healthy dose of it. For example, Dean is constantly hounded by his parents and peers for not telling anyone about his friend’s suicide and is thought to be crazy. It’s clear Dean was merely in shock and not insane and the fact that the entire neighborhood is completely oblivious to the obvious seems a bit of a stretch.

In a general sense, there are two types of indie films. There are the stereotypical art house flicks that are mostly watched exclusively by indie film lovers. And then there are the cult indie films that gain a sense of quiet notoriety and acceptance by mainstream movie goers (Donnie Darko, Napoleon Dynamite). “The Chumscrubber” wishes it could be the latter.

“The Chumscrubber” is like the nerd in high school who so badly wants to hang with the cool kids that he pathetically tries too hard. “The Chumscrubber” wants to be the new “Donnie Darko;” all the usual elements are there. A young leading star, set in the ‘burbs, a sense of phlisophical mystery with a heavy bias on the youth generation. Unfortunately, when “The Chumscrubber” showed up to school in all its cool clothes, it was merely laughed at.

“The Chumscrubber” has several good intentions and shouldn’t be ignored, but to expect anything other than mediocrity would be a stretch. When will directors realize that creating satire about suburbia is like beating a dead horse. It’s no longer different, innovative or eye opening. No one will leave this film thinking they learned a bit about those neighborhoods that try too hard to be perfect. No one will learn a bit about parent/teen relations that they didn’t already know. It’s all redundant.

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