Home » Blogs » Poolman

The leading role in his first directorial debut “Poolman” played by Chris Pine is a character comedy about weird people from Los Angeles that also parodies 1940s gangster movies. Alongside Ian Gotler, Pine also co-wrote the script, co-produced it and acted as Darren Barrenman who was the main character. Darren is a big-bearded, long-haired, talkative pool cleaner who lives in a tiny trailer right next to the pool he is assigned to maintain which is located on the courtyard of an old-fashioned motel fashioned like Tikki and remodeled into flats. I’m not sure whether it’s set nowadays or not. Nobody has got mobile phones and there are lots of pre-1950s things about this movie set design and costumes. In 1930 you could meet one of the presumed bad guys with huge roadster on American roads. The score combines hipster jazz with zither and violin undertones, giving it a retro vibe feel to it. A mysterious woman named June Del Rey (DeWanda Wise) who appears out of nowhere and draws the hero into a mystery has a silhouette like a film noir dame and the wardrobe to match.

This mystery revolves around real estate deals and corruption involving some local councilman Stephen Toronkowsky whom Darren sees at community meetings every week when he argues against losing historical heritage buildings or improving bus services. This senator is portrayed by an actor bearing such close resemblance to himself that one might think this role was written specially for him – Stephen Tobolowsky. Other films within this story involve corruption in LA such as Chinatown, which gets multiple references plus actual clips from its scenes, as well as Who Framed Roger Rabbit where Darren vents out his frustration during one of these rallies.

“Poolman” has not much plotwise to tell about or even hint at nor does it seem very concerned about whatever little plot exists in it. This is a movie about vibes. Darren is a handsome, lovable, hairy man-child who cannot realize how much his girlfriend Susan (Jennifer Jason Leigh) who doubles as a complex manager wants to marry him until she almost leaves him for good and he realized that she adored him more than anyone else. Twice a week Darren takes therapy from an American Indian woman called Diane (Annette Bening) and apparently there is also one film directed by her partner Jack on him though I still can’t tell what it’s going to be about. 

“Poolman” is an incredibly bizarre flick, not deeply weird in the sense of “alienating” or “hard to take.” On the contrary, its so gentle that it could probably be considered an example of Nicecore – the kind of movies described by critic David Ehrlich who avoid most plot conflict and resolution but instead show characters being nice to each other. There are fights, deceits and one murder but this killing was done so formally like in some old school movies that it hardly looks violent. The majority parts of the scenes are lackadaisical or mildly farcical.

No, the film is weird in the sense of “Chris Pine alone understands this.” I don’t mean that because I didn’t like “Poolman.” It was a cute, fun movie and once I found my comfort zone and tuned in to its frequency, I laughed a lot even though at times it tends to overstay its welcome as it leans too much on plumbing the emotional depths of the kind of bloke one would be happy to talk with at a bus bus stop but would hate sitting next to. But for me a project like “Poolman” is not something you throw yourself into unless you have an inner compulsion but this urge does not always make itself manifest.

“The Big Lebowski” has often served as reference point for comparing this film with others in similar vein that could be described as parodying LA noir; I guess there are some similarities. However, it reminded me more of a rawer version of Jim Jarmusch’s Nicecore classic “Paterson,” which is about a New Jersey bus driver who writes poetry and loves his girlfriend. It also (sometimes bizarrely) bears comparison to Taxi Driver in terms of choice of protagonist and hermetically sealed Something Old/Something New style (except instead of writing journal entries Darren pens old timey letters on a typewriter addressed to Erin Brockovich – not Julia Roberts’ portrayal but rather the actual activist lawyer herself from whom the title character originated). 

This is one of those movies where the hero folds origami figurines which he gives out to other people as messages or feelings while someone should tell him never be afraid to trust an unknown future to a known god. This sort of film features scenes where one enemy informs another, all-of-a-sudden slumping forward with his head lowly hanging saying: “I’ve had a hard week” followed by “me too,” then they embrace each other. A different type of film has two plots where five people hide their faces in plain sight of the people they are spying on, who actually look into their eyes. In addition, there is a stake-out scene where one participant is reading Karl Ove Knausgård’s “My Struggle” and she starts quoting from it right at the camera. Also, one should not forget about those dream sequences that have been voiced by Pine’s father Robert Pine who played a character in American TV cop show “CHiPs”.

What I mean is that this is the kind of movie our cinema could benefit a great deal from even though it has its flaws. These were all kinds of films Altman used to make with Hal Ashby and Alan Rudolph especially when they were into small projects, such as Brewster McCloud or Harold and Maude or Trouble in Mind which were all as ethereal as Poolman; you could blow them away with a small breeze like dandelions. At other moments during the movie, it reminded me of some mopey comedies starring Bening’s husband Warren Beatty playing tough guy boy-men who were so solipsistic that they always sabotaged themselves.

At the 2016 Toronto Film Festival, the film “Poolman” was premiered and it was strongly criticized . It baffles me now because I see how much into its own craziness and nearly weightlessness this movie goes, and how sunny-side up it is to a point where one just cannot hate it, anymore than somebody can hate a basket of muffins or a gigantic affectionate dog. Some people can’t handle five minutes of it while others may fall in love with it. I think that some individuals will simply love it. Pine should really get involved more in directing and honing his craft of making good films like this one. There are moments here where we enter sublime territories.

Also, Read On Fmovies

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *