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Film Review: Poolman

FILM REVIEW
POOLMAN
Rated R
199 Minutes
Released May 10th

This movie is not about a man who cleans pools. There is only one pool, and he is seldom cleaning it – he’s usually in it, sitting cross-legged on the bottom beneath 6 feet of water, meditating and trying to de-stress. Quoting writer-director-star Chris Pine, his character, “Darren Barrenman,” is “a 43-year-old boy-man who stopped growing up around 1988”. Perhaps that explains why the setting seems to be composed of items and scenery from vaguely around that era. And that the wardrobe of his character is in the style of The Big Lebowski – hyper-casual, off-the-wall choices that establish his personality as expressively bucking the social norm. This style happens to reflect Pine’s personal attire, seemingly pulled out of the Salvation Army bin before their hardworking staff can sort it. Pine himself has created an eccentric celeb persona, and this is his signature, rather than relationship scandals or legal embroilments.

Don’t expect a gripping story here – as in there really isn’t one. There are reflections of films like Chinatown, the Big Lebowski, and Who Framed Roger Rabbit. The movie doesn’t leave you inspired, though many of the scenes poke fun at modern society. A very realistic city council meeting is hilarious to me. In those meetings, if someone wants to speak, no matter how outlandish their speech may be, they are allowed a public forum for 1-2 minutes. Since my significant other is the Mayor of Santa Monica and has been on our city council since 2020, I watch every city council meeting from beginning to end, I can attest that those scenes in the film run true. Pine did attend LA city council meetings to make sure his script was authentic. 

Pine came up with the idea for the movie, and it premiered at the Toronto Film Festival in 2023, where it got a cold shoulder from critics. The excellent cast shines, even without a strong story. Danny DeVito and Annette Bening are funny, although we never really get to know their characters well. They own the apartment complex that Barrenman’s motorhome is parked in. DeWanda Wise is fantastic as femme fatale real estate developer “June Del Rey.” I would expect we will see more of her. Stephen Tobolovsky is hilarious as council member Toronkowsky, who hides an unsuspected private life. Pine’s Barrenman would be a fascinating character if further developed. He seems to be an emotional “idiot savant”, perhaps bordering on the autism spectrum. Most of what we know about him comes from his clothing choice as if the clothes dictate the character.

Pine was born in LA, into an acting family. Both of his parents are successful actors, and as with all actors, they have struggled. “This is my city; this is my town. I grew up in the business,” Pine says.  I remember seeing him in a production of the intense Martin McDonagh play, The Lieutenant of Inishmore, at the Mark Taper Forum in 2010. He is a consummate actor, having trained since childhood.

So Poolman is not going to go down in history as being the finest movie ever made, and probably not as the finest Pine will ever make. I predict it could end up being one of those movies that grows a cult following, just from the criticism that surrounds it. You can feel the fun in the movie regardless. 

I may be the only critic opining that Pine should make more movies. He should channel his own creativity, not emulate classic films, and flesh out his characters more. Where does Barrenman’s extreme stress come from? Why is he alone? What drives him? Perhaps the living arrangement of Benning’s and Devito’s characters is hiding something. And maybe don’t try to wrap so many ideas into one story. In an appearance on the Today Show, Pine said, “This film I made is a joyful, silly, playful film.” I think that to enjoy Poolman, you must believe you are in on the fun of making it.

Kathryn Whitney Boole has spent most of her life in the entertainment industry, which has been the backdrop for remarkable adventures with extraordinary people.  She is a Talent Manager with Studio Talent Group in Santa Monica. kboole@gmail.com

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