Drugged Kids, Stupid Parents | Parties, Not Movies

Sundance: Drugged Kids, Stupid Parents

You can barely set foot in a theater at Sundance this year without seeing wise teenagers who are ignored by stupid parents.

Sometimes the kids are so annoying that the parents, who are busy having affairs, drug the kids rather than deal with them.

Is it a trend? Is someone trying to tell us something? Or is it just an easy way out? I wish I knew the answer.

I told you yesterday about Mike Mills' excellent feature, "Thumbsucker," based on Walter Kirn's novel. The movie stars 19-year-old Lou Taylor Pucci as a disaffected teen who's drugged by his parents, survives it and winds up finding some sanity.

What saves "Thumbsucker" from banality and implausibility is Mills' tremendous sense of heart, style, warmth and genuine love of his characters. There is nothing cynical about "Thumbsucker." Pucci's performance is sheer genius. But as of this writing, the film has no distributor.

By contrast, last night's premiere, "The Chumscrubber," is the polar opposite. The joke going around is that the two titles sound alike, and that a party should be given for them at a bar in town called the Claimjumper.

Unfortunately, such an event would be a mistake since "The Chumscrubber," written and directed by Arie Posin, is a mean piece of work. Its few redeeming qualities are found in a hard-working, big, all-star cast that is wasted on a particularly demeaning script.

"The Chumscrubber" offers a dozen or so unsympathetic characters who are set up like bowling pins and knocked down one after another in what I think is supposed to be a satire, but instead is a flaccid recycling of "American Beauty," "Knots Landing" and "Desperate Housewives."

The only thing the two movies have in common is the aforementioned Pucci, who stands out in a supporting role in "Chumscrubber." And, of course, executive producer Bob Yari, who is a mall mogul/real-estate magnate.

Imagine that you could get into one film Glenn Close, Allison Janney, Ralph Fiennes, Carrie-Anne Moss, William Fichtner and Rita Wilson, all highly accomplished adult actors with many awards and accolades to their credit.

Then add Jamie Bell, the much-loved star of "Billy Elliott" as your central character, a troubled teen who discovers that his best friend — a suburban high-school-student drug dealer — has hanged himself. You can't lose, right? Wrong.

What's interesting about both "Thumbsucker" and "Chumscrubber" is a decided hatred for psychiatry and a sharp unscientific criticism of parents who submit their kids to Ritalin or other drugs. The message in both films is quite clear, although at least in "Thumbsucker," the point is taken and then dismissed.

In "Chumscrubber," a main character is a cartoonish, unfunny buffoonish psychiatrist (played by Fichtner) who inappropriately drugs his son (Bell) with psychotropics but otherwise ignores his family. Why the writer — who had a character in his last film die of a Viagra overdose — did not just use a mallet to drive his point home is the only question.

I hate to be a pill, but there may not be a remedy for this film.

Bold-Faced Names: Parties, Not Movies

All week, Sundance has been besieged by semi-famous people who don't seem to be here for the film festival.

They have become fixtures at late-night parties thrown by corporations trying to get their brand names some publicity. But the film festival itself? It's just a footnote to this gang.

For instance: On Saturday night, we were surprised to see "Apprentice" winner Bob Rancic making the rounds. Wasn't he invited to Donald Trump's massive wedding? Apparently not.

Pamela Anderson and her boyfriend Steven Dorff, once thought of as an actor, were seen roaming from party to party as well.

Paris and Nicky Hilton made Sundance a weekend stop, although neither was spotted at any of the festival's screenings. This despite the info given to me by one security guard that Paris might show up with a huge entourage at any given moment. Alas, there's been no word of her, even at the screenings of "Inside Deep Throat," a film that might have been of interest to her considering her own cinematic history.

And who didn't take any swag this week? Why, Michael Keaton, star of "Game 6." Even though he was offered about $50,000 worth of stuff at one Swag Meet, Keaton declined the offer. He actually said these words: "I would feel uncomfortable taking it." Quote unquote. And yet the world is still turning.

Meantime, IFC Films is very cross with me for suggesting it needs a partner to distribute its films. IFC has a few offerings at Sundance, including the marvelous "Me and You and Everyone We Know." The company that made a bundle on "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" wants everyone to know it is an independent entity and needs no help from anyone to get the job done.

And: Here comes a new generation of show-biz kids.

Owen Kline, 13-year-old son of Kevin Kline and Phoebe Cates, makes a winning debut in Noah Baumbach's "The Squid and the Whale." This is no kids' movie, either. It's the tale of a brutal divorce and the effect it has on a upscale Brooklyn family.

Owen's sister, Greta, sings in the movie as well. Kline came to the premiere screening with Owen, but Cates was forced to stay behind in New York with Greta so they could study for a school exam.

Baumbach, by the way, came to the premiere with his longtime girlfriend, actress Jennifer Jason Leigh. The pair held hands during much of the 81-minute film.

And: Who was the mystery actor who stiffed his Sundance cab driver yesterday morning? A young guy named Shawn who claimed to be in a debuting film took a cab from Salt Lake City airport to the very posh Stein Eriksen Lodge in Deer Valley — and then disappeared without paying his $70 fare. The driver, named Mario, was not so downhearted — he later gave a two-block free ride to a documentary's crew member who didn't have any money on her.