In 10 Words or Less
Suburban ennui meets the wonders of prescription drugs
Loves: Quirky films, good acting
Likes: Lou Pucci
Dislikes: Suburban stereotypes
Matthew J. McCue, the best man at my wedding, is essentially omniscient when it comes to film: he sees all. So when I mentioned this odd-sounding film to him, albeit with a completely incorrect name (such as The Scumrunner), it shocked me that he'd never heard of it. We checked out the trailer, and looked to see where it was playing. Unfortunately, it wasn't. It seems like the film was pulled from theaters approximately 2/3 of the way through the first showing. Maybe it lasted a week, in all honesty, but it was gone exceptionally quick. In fact, according to the IMDB, it opened on the weekend of August 7th, 2005, and closed the weekend of August 14th, 2005, collecting a meager $49,526 along the way.
Now if one was to look at the cast list, which features Glenn Close, Ralph Fiennes, Allison Janney, Carrie-Anne Moss, Rita Wilson, Jamie Bell and Lou Pucci , one has to wonder what the hell went wrong. After watching it, it certainly wasn't the film, as first-time director Arie Posin put together an intelligent, artistic and enjoyable story about suburbia and the angst that exists in those nice neat suburban homes. Of course, it could have been any other problem that sunk the movie in theaters, but it's pretty clear that artistic vision or cinematic quality were not the downfall of The Chumscrubber. Maybe it was just the name.
That name refers to a pop-culture juggernaut that exists in the hearts and minds of the teenagers in this universe, taking form in cartoons, video games, merchandise and comic books. Jesus probably ranks a close second to The Chumscrubber in this universe in terms of popularity, mainly because of the ultra-hip profile the hero strikes, one that does not include a head. It's actually a pretty striking image, and one that is intregal to the film, despite being a more mysterious and conceptual presence for the first part of the movie.
The basic plot concerns Troy, the friendly neighborhood drug dealer, who offs himself in the pool house of his mother's lovely suburban California home, during a party. When Dean (Bell) finds his best friend dead due to suicide, he just leaves, not telling a soul, thinking no one would care. Unfortunately for Dean, Billy cares a lot.
Billy is a local dealer as well, who got his dope from Troy, and with him gone, his supply has dried up. Knowing that Troy had to have back-up drugs, Billy and his pals Crystal and Lee (Pucci) decide to kidnap Troy's best friend's brother to force Dean to give them Troy's drugs. Unfortunately for the trio, they kidnap the wrong kid, and instead get the mayor's son. If you think you have a clue as to where this is going, you don't, unless your clue involves Luis Buñuel.
On top of the base plot, there are many layers and subplots in play, mainly ones involving emotions, responsibility and prescription drugs. (On a side note, the similarly-titled Thumbsucker covered some similar ground in terms of medicine, and also had Lou Pucci. Small world.) The parents in Dean's suburban paradise are hardly selfless, and often are so self-focused that they have no time for the rest of their world, forcing the kids to live their own, separate lives.
Frequently, with and without the subtlety of a hammer to the head (as in the repeated line "Don't ignore me!"), the point is made that the older generation simply doesn't listen, because they are too busy thinking about themselves. Close's character embodies this idea with her creepy phone calls to her neighbors. Everyone is doing their own thing, but doing it badly.
Some of the subplots, which become a bit surreal and often nonsensical, don't quite fit in, but give the film its quota of quirkiness to show just how wacky the suburbs are, including a special-day duel between a memorial and a wedding happening across the street from each other. There are also some themes that defy explanation, which actually are used to tie everything together. A rule of thumb should be, if no one understands a piece of a film, you can't end with it.
While the film doesn't live up to the magic of its trailer, one part where they get it absolutely right is the film's climax. The sense of dread that the film builds to is severely palpable, and comes to a head in a scene that begs you to go frame-by-frame, as every piece of fecal matter available hits the fan. Some of it is certainly predictable, but it's no less enjoyable or simply shocking. Sadly, though the climax is magnificent, the ending slogs along, and cleans things up a bit too neatly. This film is a story about people with messy lives. It didn't need to end cleanly.
A one-disc release, The Chumscrubber is packaged in a standard keepcase. The DVD has an animated, anamorphic widescreen main menu, with options to watch the movie, set-up languages, view special features and select scenes. Audio tracks are available in English Dolby Digital 5.1 and 2.0, while subtitles are in English, French and Spanish, along with English captions. The scene selection menus have still previews and titles for each chapter.
The 2.40:1 anamorphic widescreen video looks good, but not great, as it's a touch soft and/or dull, without the razor-sharp edges you come to expect from recent films. The color is solid, and the level of fine detail is good, while there are no obvious blemishes, digital or otherwise. The look of this film is nothing to complain about, but it feels like, especially in the lighter scenes, that the movie could be crisper all around.
Aurally, the DVD does a nice job, with clean, clear dialogue and good sound effects, though the source music could have been more present in the mix (not likely a DVD issue.) The surround gets some light play when it enhances the soundtrack and score, but only gets truly active during the cartoon scenes, when the voice of The Chumscrubber moves around the side and rear speakers to create an effectively creepy sound.
Though the packaging doesn't indicate a single bonus feature, there's actually a handful of extras, which are a nice addition to the DVD. The first, and most important, is a feature-length audio commentary with director Arie Posin and writer Zac Stanford. For the majority of the track, Posin does the talking, sharing tidbits about the scenes, talking about what was cut and important details, while Stanford chimes in with occasional quips. It's a good commentary that Posin keeps interesting, while avoiding dead air.
A 12-minute making-of featurette includes plenty of scenes from the movie, some on-set footage and a lot of interviews with the cast and crew. It felt a bit too fluffy, but Posin does add some insight into the movie. Definitely only watch it after the film, as there are many visual and plot spoilers.
The making-of is followed by 10 deleted/extended scenes that can be viewed separately or in one 14:25 bunch. While some of these moments are pointless, others change the way the film would have played, and it's interesting to see what might have been, with the exception of the alternate "ending," which never would have worked. Rounding out the extras are a pair of very short trailers.
The Bottom Line
The trailer for this film, combined with the utter star power in the cast, made it look like one of those "films for a generation." While it's certainly a compelling, unique film, with an ending that will stick with you, it doesn't have that special ingredient that separates a Donnie Darko or a Garden State from the rest of the surburban experience genre. The DVD brings the film home in a nice looking and sounding package, while including a few context-building extras. I absolutely recommend checking out the film, but I have to hedge my bet when it comes to a purchase. This is a movie that will be a personal call for most viewers.
Francis Rizzo III is a native Long Islander, where he works in academia. In his spare time, he enjoys watching hockey, writing and spending time with his wife, daughter and puppy.Check out 1106 - A Moment in Fictional Time or follow him on Twitter
*The Reviewer's Bias section is an attempt to help readers use the review to its best effect. By knowing where the reviewer's biases lie on the film's subject matter, one can read the review with the right mindset.