In the white picket fenced suburb of Hillside one afternoon, Dean (Jamie Bell) finds that his friend, the high school's drug source, Troy (Joshua Janowicz) has hung himself in his bedroom, during a pool party for the neighbours hosted by his mother Carrie (Glenn Close). Dean's classmates Billy (Justin Chatwin), Crystal (Camilla Belle) and Lee (Lou Taylor Pucci) want to get hold of Troy's stash, and when Dean refuses to get it, they kidnap Charlie (Thomas Curtis) to pressure Dean, thinking it's Dean's kid brother (Rory Culkin), but they get the wrong Charlie; this one's the son of local cop (John Heard) whose divorced wife Terri (Rita Wilson) is about to marry the Mayor (Ralph Fiennes). The wedding conflicts with the memorial service planned for Troy by his off-balance mother across the road, and the botched kidnapping takes a nasty turn while Crystal tries to bridge the gap between her and Dean.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
If you are familiar with the word 'chum' - a rather old fashioned English word used by some older Englishmen - you might be nonplussed by the title, which could suggest all sorts of automatic cleaning devices, or indeed a personal valet who scrubs chums. Discard these thoughts. In the wide open spaces of Arie Posin's manicured, neat and orderly fantasy suburbia, The Chumscrubber is a symbol that can mean anything you want it to. But not chums. It's a figure from a violent video game, he's lost his head but carries it around by the hair, and the film shows no other visual references to pop culture. But that's not the oddest aspect of the film.
Posin and her co-writer Zan Stanford have populated this suburb with teenagers alienated from their parents, the latter so involved with their own self improvement (or otherwise) that they don't really know their children. When Glenn Close recovers from a post traumatic wobbly after her son hangs himself, she tearfully confesses she didn't know Troy, her own son. But neither do the other parents, who don't even have the insight to recognise it. There is an all-too obvious emphasis on medication and drugs used by the oldies, as if to excuse the drug usage so prevalent by their teenagers; like father like son.
These parents are all cut with the same cookie cutter: hard edged reality, socially conforming, fake, aspirationally ascendant (if you'll pardon the fake jargon) and incessant drinkers of red and white wine. Also colourful cocktails. The suburb itself is hyper 'white picket fence', and the occasional flash of digital flourishes adds to the sense of isolation about this community from real life. Admittedly the film intends to take risks with its slightly surreal style, but the problem this creates works against the film's success as 'meaningful statement'. Distanced from real life and stuck in Anywhere, USA (the filmmakers' description), we are like players in a video game, albeit not The Chumscrubber one.
The kids are naturalistically portrayed, accentuating the plasticity of the adults, who either lose their marbles like Carrie (Glenn Close) does for a while, or like Michael (Ralph Fiennes) who does for all of the time, or they're freaky caricatures like all the rest.
The complex screenplay is admirable for its plot structure, its dark humour and its storytelling tricks, but the film ends up playing like a well developed project about teen-parent alienation, while itself alienating many of us in the audience.
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CHUMSCRUBBER, THE (MA)
CAST: Jamie Bell, Camilla Belle, Justin Chatwin, Glenn Close, Rory Culkin, William Fichtner, Ralph Fiennes, John Heard, Lauren Holly, Allison Janney, Josh Janowicz, Carrie-Anne Moss, Lou Taylor Pucci, Rita Wilson, Joshua Janowicz
PRODUCER: Lawrence Bender, Bonnie Curtis,
DIRECTOR: Arie Posin
SCRIPT: Arie Posin, Zac Stanford
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Lawrence Sher
EDITOR: William S. Scharf, Arthur Schmidt
MUSIC: James Horner
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Patti Podesta
RUNNING TIME: 108 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Icon
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: June 8, 2006