½*/**** Image B- Sound B+
starring Christina Ricci, Hank Harris, Brenda Blethyn, Dominique Swain
screenplay by Adam Larson Broder
directed by Adam Larson Broder and Tony R. Abrams
by Walter Chaw The best and only successful joke of Adam Larson Broder and Tony R. Abrams's unspeakably bad Pumpkin is borrowed from another Christina Ricci film: the last primp that she performs on herself in Don Roos's The Opposite of Sex is a quick pinch of her nipples to bring them into sharper relief; that's pretty funny, and in Pumpkin, Ms. Ricci's nipples in various sorority sweaters are an Anne Heche-ian running gag never commented upon. It's fitting, I guess, that the one thing that works about this film is probably unintentional and derivative besides.
Playing Reese Witherspoon's haircut, Ricci is miscast as the blonde and beautiful Carolyn--the only blonde, in fact, in her pointedly all-brunette sorority. Aspiring as a pod people to be named Sorority of the Year, the Alpha Omega Pi girls decide to volunteer as mentors for athletes competing in the "Challenged Games." Carolyn's charge, the titular Pumpkin Romanoff (Hank Harris), is a wheelchair-bound lad with an uncertain malady (Julio Oscar Mechoso's harried counsellor winkingly offers, "Retardation is not a diagnosis"--something in which the filmmakers no doubt take comfort) who, because the retarded in movies share with the Native American in movies the misfortune of being doe-eyed and pure of spirit, wins Carolyn's heart. Pumpkin is I Am Sam crossed with Porky's.
The danger of making a film that posits itself as smarter than its subject is that it ends up being a snarky, supercilious smarm-fest that, at every turn, informs its audience that it's wasting its time watching it (as though the audience wouldn't figure that out for itself soon enough). Pumpkin wants to be Heathers and Rushmore, but more than anything else it wants to be a Todd Solondz movie--more to the point, it wants to be Todd Solondz's Storytelling, which in its first twenty minutes does more to address the issues of hypocrisy, race, and campus politics than all 113 stultifying minutes of Pumpkin. That film features a stern black professor (Harry J. Lennix) who is neither as stern nor as black as Robert Wisdom's character from Storytelling, and it features an illicit love affair between an able-bodied girl (Carolyn) and a physically-challenged boy (Pumpkin) that can't decide if it's in earnest or in jest and is completely chaste regardless.
Pumpkin struts about with "courage" pinned to its huckster lapel while a yellow streak a mile wide decorates its back. The alleged digs at racism are obvious and self-satisfied and the shots at the superficiality of the upper-middle class are so glib and unfocused that the objects of derision come off as the most genuinely marginalized minorities in the whole satirical mess. The idea that the Greek system is a segregating element on college campuses fails, amongst other stunning non-revelations, to provide the slightest bit of controversy; in fact, in attacking such paternalistic garbage as The Other Sister, Pumpkin actually goes a long way towards being paternalistic garbage like The Other Sister. Consider that Pumpkin, in service of the disability-as-metaphor trope so unattractive in films making fun of people who use disabilities as metaphors, becomes increasingly less disabled as the picture wears on, first learning to walk, then to speak, then to bravely declare "I'm...not...retarded" in the hours post-coitus.
Pumpkin doesn't have the first clue where it's going with its hot button issues and takes its sweet time getting there. A limp satire that elicits derisive laughter at its desire to offend, the film's blatant rabble-rousing is just clumsy and becomes embarrassing. One of the more tired and unpromising directorial debuts in some time, Broder and Abrams's Pumpkin is an endurance test made ugly by its inability to decide whether it's ironic or sincere, and the space between bad irony and false sincerity is, to say the least, a pretty sorry place to be. Originally published: June 28, 2002.
|Above: The widescreen vs. full frame transfers of Pumpkin. Note the gratuitous headspace in the latter, as well as the water damage affecting the source print itself above Dominique Swain's head (far left)|
by Bill Chambers If Walter has ever been more right about a picture than Pumpkin, I'm not sure when that was--and yet, prepared for the worst and getting it, I found Pumpkin uniquely satisfying. MGM offers the Zoetrope film in a fairly shoddy DVD rendering; what's with Zoetrope founder and technocrat extraordinaire Francis Ford Coppola authorizing these substandard presentations? First the Godfather Trilogy, then the non-anamorphic release of No Such Thing, now Pumpkin (I don't know about CQ), which looks like it was shot in 16mm for the duration of the opening scene and elsewhere exhibits dirt and lab markings. Colours are satisfactory though detail is inconsistent, and black level is just a bit wanting. (These comments apply to both the 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen and clumsily-framed fullscreen versions--had this not been a flipper disc, with a 117-minute film squeezed onto a single layer, perhaps I'd be taking fewer issues with the image.) Aural activity is concentrated on the front of the soundstage in the Dolby Digital 5.1 mix, with occasional bass produced by the soundtrack selections (including John Ottman's Requiem for a Dream-like score) re-routed to the subwoofer. The disc contains a single extra feature, the original theatrical trailer. Aside: I do prefer the DVD's cover art to Pumpkin's theatrical one-sheet, even if the latter better conveys the tone of the film. Originally published: November 5, 2002.