I was lucky enough to receive a copy of The Chumscrubber prior to it's UK release...well actually there isn't a UK release as yet, and the US release is limited enough so that just makes me even luckier! Mainly because there won't be many UK viewings of it as yet, but also because it includes such an impressive cast as Jamie Bell, Glen Close, Carrie-Anne Moss, Ralph Fiennes, John Heard, and on, and on...
There's been a few mixed reviews pop up so far, some quite scathing, yet while I've spent days writing up posts on my previous writing life [Edited - Richard] about remakes, sequels, prequels and revisualisations, and then I see a string of new and innovative plotted movies, Chumscrubber included. Quite frankly I don't think I was watching the same movie as these reviewers.
Instantly you can see the divide between the world the parents inhabit and the world of the teenagers. The adults live in the over sanitised, prescription based world, blinkered to only their problems, whereas the teenagers seem to be living in the harsh real world, striving for some of that medicinal assistance to lift themselves rather than to sanitise their surroundings. At times it seems the teenagers are the adults, while they run around carefree and behave like children.
A couple of things you notice straight into the movie are Jamie Bell and the art of casting against expected type. On the casting issue it's a surprise to see Glenn Close playing a sweet wholesome mother, and Carrie-Anne Moss playing a sultry temptress, a woman who is attracted to the strength of others. These two casting choices hit me as quite a surprise, against expected type, and superbly chosen.
As for Jamie Bell, he's superbly believable and draws you into the movie with an amazing performance.
Rory Culkin is another great showing, often the performances of the actors who play baddies are overlooked, after all it's easy to play a baddie isn't it? Yet that's just not true, especially with this character. He's malevolent, controlling, but there's a streak of uncertainty and self doubt through the character, and he pulls this off perfectly.
Not all the younger actors are so great though, Lou Taylor Pucci really does play the same character from Thumbsucker, it's a very similar role. His performance in the final scenes was much better, and very disconcerting. Actually it would have been much better, and in keeping with the against type casting in this movie, to cast him against his previous role.
Camilla Belle was another strong performance, and you can clearly see what she is going to become. She certainly has the potential to be a great Hollywood actress, her eyes, the underlying passion, all the features are there that will make her a Hollywood sex symbol.
The layering of the two sides of life in the Chumscrubber world is very well created. As they intertwine they pass each other by with confusion, misunderstanding and resentment, but just keep on going almost unnoticed. The adults coming dangerously close to the events of the teenagers' lives, almost grasping the actuality of what is happening, and either missing the point or choosing to avoid it totally.
The perfect example of this is seeing the Mayor and his wife carry on towards their wedding day plans avoiding the fact that their son appears to be missing, and that that life in general seems to be falling apart around them. It's the ignorance of the adults caught in their self obsessed lives that's more amusing than anything, and although overplayed for the movie, it's not all that far from reality.
Comedy is sparse and quite dark here, and when they come they are uneasy moments. Those moments when you laugh and are then suddenly hit by the seriousness of it all, it's funny, but am I laughing at the wrong bits? It's a strange feeling, and does add to to the unease throughout, a feeling that fits well with this movie and slowly builds to the incredibly uneasy climax.
Glenn Close and Jamie Bell are excellent. Close's character begins to crack from the start of the movie, the first signs that the spectacularly insular lives of the adults is about to crumble. She plays this really well, and moves through a range of emotions with apparent ease. This is especially obvious when a scene near the end of the movie brings Close and Bell together and they show what great acting they can deliver. Close naturally smiles with tears streaming down her face, one of the saddest things to see from a human being, while Bell struggles with his emotions and delivers a heartfelt speech. I really felt for these characters at this point, and it was easy to connect with them and understand their pain.
The climax of the teenager plotline is very strong, you're right there in the awkwardness of the situation, feeling for the characters as circumstance and manipulation build around them to force events. I shan't give anything away, suffice to say you can feel the tension and pressure as it grows, and you're very aware of how events suddenly drop out of their hands having just gone too far to control.
However, the very end of the movie is quite contrived and annoying, and it does seem to grate for such a good movie. Perhaps there's an issue here of my much hated test screenings? Yet there's not enough here to hurt the movie, not enough to make me wish I hadn't watched or to make you feel short changed or cheated. No, it's a bit poor, but it's not the true climax of the movie.
There's one other thing I didn't like, the Chumscrubber itself is based on a computer game character that some of the teenagers play through the movie, usually in the background. It's also the character that provides us with a prologue and epilogue and some voice overs on the way. Yet I couldn't make any connection, or understand any relevance for this character to be here, sure it's used in a few scenes, but just as background noise. There seemed to be no other connection than that of adding a computer game connection to the teenagers' lives. It wasn't needed, I found myself confused and distracted by it, and I really think the movie would have been better without it.
What this movie is good for, are some great castings, and the excellent performances by the actors playing the teenagers. I was very surprised at just how strong Jamie Bell really is, and my feelings for Glenn Close (as an actress) were just reinforced from watching the last season of The Shield.
This has a great plot, some great actors and performances, and is a thoroughly enjoyable movie that does have some things to say about adults and teenagers. It's not really rocket science, don't analyse them, listen to them.