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With: Christina Ricci, Hank Harris, Brenda Blethyn, Dominique Swain, Amy Adams
Written by: Adam Larson Broder
Directed by: Anthony Abrams, Adam Larson Broder
MPAA Rating: R for language and a scene of sexuality
Running Time: 113
Date: 01/14/2002

Pumpkin (2002)

2 Stars (out of 4)

Bashing 'Pumpkin'

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Pumpkin seems like it ought to be a satire of some sort, and it doesan admirable job of peering through the cracks of society's mostembarrassing behaviors. But a "satire" is supposed to be funny in someway -- and I found Pumpkin to be rather grim and unappealing on manylevels.

Christina Ricci produces and stars as Carolyn McDuffy, a perky sorority girl who has been sheltered from all of life's ills and problems. She believes in a happy, perfect world. ("Life's not as easy as I thought it would be," she whines to her mother over lunch. "Yes it is," her mother replies assuredly.) Carolyn's sorority might even have a chance to beat the all-blonde Tri-Omega sorority for the title of Sorority of the Year.

But when her sorority decides as a trump card that it's going to volunteer to help the "Challenged Games" (i.e. the Special Olympics), she protests. It would be a bad idea to bring "those people" into this kind of environment, she says.

The sorority persists, and Carolyn is assigned a sad soul named Pumpkin (Hank Harris) with deep blue eyes that hold all the beauty in the world. After a couple of tries, Carolyn manages to connect with Pumpkin. He falls in love with her and she can't stop thinking about him.

Her "mistake" is handled badly by everyone in her life. Her perfect, tennis-champ boyfriend (with a square jaw like a lunchbox) named Kent Woodlands (Sam Ball), is threatened and disgusted by Pumpkin. Her sorority sisters chastise her for breaking sorority rules to fraternize with him. Her parents, who try to keep Carolyn's life as white and homogenized as possible, certainly do not understand. And when Carolyn tries to set up her overweight friend Cici (Melissa McCarthy) with Pumpkin, Cici gets insulted and runs home in tears.

The only one who might possibly understand is her poetry teacher (oddly similar to the creative writing teacher in Todd Solondz' Storytelling), who notices a distinct change from her happy, peppy poetry, to her soul-baring, pain-filled poetry after Pumpkin enters her life.

Directed by Tony R. Abrams and Adam Larson Broder, Pumpkin draws hugely interesting parallels between these outcasts. For example, Carolyn has managed to live a pearly-white life and so it makes strange sense that she would be attracted to a man whose outlook on life seems to be mainly good and pure.

The film also enjoys pointing out the differences between the superficial and the genuine. Kent may be superficial at first, but when he drives his car over a cliff and paralyzes himself, he begins volunteering as a coach for the "Challenged Games," becoming pure of spirit when his perfect body no longer functions.

The problem is that, while these ideas may be interesting in themselves, the vehicle they use feels remote and grim. Nothing connects, and more often than not, ideas contradict. We can't relate to any of these characters on a personal level, and the laughs aren't there. Pumpkin doesn't even come across as a real mentally retarded person -- he actually heals and grows over the course of the movie, developing his power of speech and discarding his wheelchair and learning to walk and even dance. It's a useless device -- neither poignant nor funny.

And it goes on forever! Just when things seem to be wrapping up with the showdown at the big formal dance, the movie finds something else to complain about for another half hour.

In addition, Brenda Blethyn plays Pumpkin's mother as a stereotypical control-freak, continually telling him that he shouldn't be walking around so much or he shouldn't be thinking about girls in that way. She's over-protective to the point of strangulation, but we've seen this character before, and it shows laziness on the part of the filmmakers.

I admire movies that dare to be clever and to present interesting ideas, but the reason to make a movie and not write an essay is so that we can develop our own emotional response. But there's no emotion to be had in Pumpkin -- just jumbled, sterile thoughts.

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