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:: The Chumscrubber

Let’s start off by simply saying, ‘The Chumscrubber’ is not an ordinary American movie. Set in a stereotypical suburb, initially one could be fooled into thinking this is the case. However, this film attempts something more than portraying drama and comedy. ‘The Chumscrubber’ endeavours to convey a disturbing message in today’s society about a sad detachment between parents and teenagers.

An unpredictable movie, it begins with a shock suicide that disrupts the whole town. Dean Stiffle (played by Jamie Bell) was the victim’s best friend. Suddenly Dean is involved in a crazy kidnapping plan. The “bully gang” at school, including Billy (played by Justin Chatwin), Crystal (Camille Belle) and Lee (Lou Taylor Pucci) are set on getting their hands on the dead teenager’s drug stash; (He was the town drug dealer and supplied ‘happy pills’ to the kids of Hillside). The gang plan to kidnap the Dean’s brother to bribe Dean into retrieving his friend’s hidden empire of goodies. Evidently, they kidnap the wrong kid and that is where the story starts to get interesting.

Meanwhile in Hillside, there is a wedding, a memorial service, a mother who doesn’t even notice her son has been kidnapped, a jealous ex-lover and grieving mother just to name a few! And within this complex set of cleverly interconnecting storylines, there is always a sense of desperate despair. It is a frightening ignorance among the characters in the movie, which the audience aren’t quite sure how to take. The absolute disconnection between the parents and children of Hillside could just as easily be a reflection of suburbia anywhere. Teenager Dean, who is dealing with the death of his best friend, is prescribed drugs by his famous psychological-writer father Dr. Bill. His father appears to be totally ignorant of the presence of drugs in the town and is unashamedly fixated on finding a subject for his next best-seller self-help book. His ignorance of his son’s pain and lack of genuine sympathy is in one word, scary.

Across the road is the dead boy’s mother, who is also dealing with her son’s death. Her pain is obvious, but what is more disturbing is the fact there is no real sympathy from the community. The most touching moment in the film is when Dean attends his best friend’s memorial and after hearing the devastated mother gasp “I didn’t even know my own son”, he expresses real emotion in telling her what her son was really like.

The people of Hillside are constantly searching for the ultimate quick fix to make them happy. Pills, self-help books, vitamins. You name it, they have tried it. Everyone seems to be living in their own world and no one notices anyone else. It is Dean who sees through this and perhaps he can make somewhat of a difference in this lost suburb.

And why the title “The Chumscrubber” I hear you ask? The Chumscrubber is a strange headless creature that is always present throughout the film. It is the viewers who must determine exactly what this creature represents. Personally, I saw the Chumscrubber to represent the ultimate embodiment of the haunting misunderstanding between the parents and teenagers of Hillside. It seems to convey a sad sense of desperation.

Although ‘The Chumscrubber’ is described as a comedy, I did not see it that way. Looking around the cinema, some moviegoers were laughing out loud and some were gasping in shock. It is a film that can be taken both ways. A movie with an element of dark humour, ‘The Chumscrubber’ makes a clever and bold statement about today’s detached and perhaps repressive society. Although disturbing, it is definitely worth a look.