The world of indie films has
sure changed a hell of a lot since Clerks exploded out of Sundance in
the mid-90s. Ten years ago, if a movie had a cast like Glenn Close,
Ralph Fiennes, Lauren Holly, Allison Janney, Carrie-Anne Moss, Rita Wilson,
Jamie Bell and Rory Culkin it would undoubtedly be a big-budgeted
blockbuster. Well, today, that is only about half of the above-the-title cast
in this tiny little personal film.
This is both exhilarating and somewhat
troubling for the movie industry. It is nice that A-level actors are
willing to take a chance on a smaller film, however if these big names are
going to take these roles, where will the unknown struggling actors be able
to turn to be discovered? Is there something wrong with a system where
the actor who plays the main character of this film (Jamie Bell, the
Billy Elliot boy grown up) is only ranked ninth in the cast listing
behind several actors who have supporting roles? (It's not an alphabet
problem, his name starts with a B.) Have small films become big business?
Can creativity bloom under the studio lights?
These are a lot of big
questions to dump at the door of a little movie like The Chumscrubber.
In some ways, it has invited them (after all, they knew what they were doing
while assembling the cast) and in other ways it is completely unfair.
Recognizable names or not, a movie sinks or swims by its story.
However, honestly, the
casting really, really works against the movie. These characters – in
particular the adult characters who are so cartoonishly "suburban"
play better with a little less talent behind them.
all-too-obvious-but-wanting-to-be-deep look at suburbia, the kids are all
medicated and numb and the adults are all automatons; essentially walking,
talking robots. The level of the disconnect is apparent immediately,
the character of Dean (Bell) goes over to visit his best friend and finds
out that the boy has hung himself. Then Dean just walks away, not even
alerting the friend's mother (Close) when he tells her goodbye.
This leads to an odd subplot
of other disturbed teens becoming upset about the suicide – not because
they miss the boy but because he was a local drug dealer – and kidnap a
little boy in a vain attempt to get the dead boy's stash. However, if
the kids are selfish, unlikable and amoral at least they have a pulse.
The adults, on the other hand, seem lobotomized.
Glenn Close's character is
so relentlessly chipper, even after the suicide of her son, that you can't
help but compare the role with others she has performed before. How
much better an actress Close is when her lines are not so mundane. I know
that very humdrum style was the point of the whole thing, but irony doesn't
change the fact that the part is so slight that the personality of the actor
ended up overpowering the personality of the character. In particular
for this character I kept flashing back to Close's performance last year as
the similarly eternally perky matron in the awful Stepford Wives and
the connection, even vicariously, to that stinker, gives the whole thing a
queasy sense of déjà vu. Then there is an unfortunate dream sequence
when her dead son chillingly says to his best friend "Don't ignore me"
while she stands outside the building. It just brings to mind the very
similar line ("I won't be ignored!") which Close herself used in Fatal
Attraction. This connection makes you realize that twenty-year-old
potboiler was not only a much better and more interesting film, but
surprisingly a more psychologically astute one, as well.
The other "adult" actors are
also abandoned by the screenplay. Ralph Fiennes' character of the
mayor is an odd mishmash, a smart and charming lunatic. His fiancée is
played by Rita Wilson in snarling Bridezilla mode. William Fitchner is
a psychotherapist so egocentric that even on the rare occasions that what he
say makes sense we don't want to listen to him any more than his son.
Allison Janney phones in her performance and Carrie-Anne Moss is distracting
in the desperate attempts that she makes to pump up her flat role.
If this is what the adults
in this world are like, no wonder their kids are dealing in drugs, violence
and suicide. Not that the kids are any more likable.
Frankly, the story of The
Chumscrubber isn't strong enough to withstand all the excess baggage.
If it was made for $100,000 on someone's American Express card with an
amateur cast and the more realistic goal of being a late night afterthought
entry in Slamdance, then I probably would have liked the film much more than
I do. As it is though, I'm just a little baffled about what all these
talented people saw in this script.
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Posted: January 25, 2006.