The peculiarly titled The Chumscrubber (2005) is a wild, satiric, blackly humorous, sordid, shocking, effective tale of a dysfunctional, isolated suburban community, wherein children are druggies & parents are alchies or nutjobs, with the generations totally incapable of admitting they have too much in common.
A real chumscrubber is the person who cleans up the blood & guts off the deck after a daily catch of fish has been processed. But in the movie the Chumscrubber is a headless superhero in a video game & comic book who manifests symbolically or in hallucination or perhaps for real as the repairer or remover of chewed up & spat out wasted lives. The slightly science fictional or magic realist tone the chumscrubber lends to the film is amusing & hip, & relieves what might otherwise be too dark a comedy to invoke a smile.
The highschool drug dealer Troy (Josh Janowicz) commits suicide by hanging & Dean (Jamie Bell) finds the body. He tells nobody, & for quite some while the story progresses with none of the characters except Dean knowing there's a corpse dangling in the pool house.
This death slowly sets in motion powerful emotional reevaluations of one life after another, though few come to any point of improvement. There are some big cast members like Ralph Fiennes & Glenn Close who manage to play offbeat characters without stealing the show from relative newcomers, especially that centrally important performance by Jamie Bell as a young man pretendng not to be grieving over horrific loss, his character symbolically named Dean Stiffle, the stifled dean.
Fiennes plays the "town's" mayor, who has gotten a bonk on the head & begun to move through a blissful world of dolphins while nobody seems to notice he's lost touch with all the horrors of existence. His fiance Terry (Rita Wilson) pursues wedding plans like a starving mouse pursuing cheese, while both she & the mayor are harassed by Terry's ex-husband (John Heard).
Carrie-Anne Moss plays a "Mrs. Robinson" type who'll screw even underaged boys. Glenn Close is Troy's mother, on the verge of losing her mind, pretending to be returning a casserole dish to one detested friend after another who failed to attend her dead son's funeral services while assuring everybody one by one that she doesn't blame them for her son's suicide.
Not a one of these adults are safe or useful around children, & most are eager to blame any community problems not on their own failures & the sterility of their suburban dream, but on delinquency. A few do seem to change for the better, whether through forgiveness or delusion, but mainly this is a world with few salvagable possibilities. It needs to be thoroughly chum scrubbed.
The teens, never having had sensible adult guidance from anyone, are totally raising themselves, & not capable of sound judgement. A group of them have conspired to kidnap the mayor's son Charlie (Rory Culkin) who they mistake for an entirely different Charlie (Thomas Curtis) & believe can be useful in laying their hands on the dead drug dealer's stash of pills. Little Charlie's wedding-obsessed neurotic mother continues to have one-sided conversations with him through a closed door, never realizing he was kidnapped days before.
When Dean is finally able to admit that Troy was his friend, & shares with the griefstricken half-mad mother why he cared about her son, it's a healing moment for at least two characters in this blighted world, a moment of hope & glory in a gloomy comedy that might otherwise have been relentlessly sad.
It's like no other film I can think of, simultaneously a romp & a downer, upliftingly depressing, harshly gentle, phantasmagorically realistic. It's just about as original & good as independent cinema ever gets.
copyright © by Paghat the Ratgirl