review by Cynthia Fuchs, 28 June 2002
Ricci has recently been on a public-confessions kick. Turns out that
she not only survived making Mermaids with Cher and Winona
Ryder, but also, a traumatic childhood, anorexia, a season of
Ally McBeal, along with other, common True Hollywood
Stories-style horrors. Her movie choices, by contrast, are
refreshingly unusual: Vincent Gallo's creepy
Tim Burton's eccentric Sleepy Hollow, and Don Roos' brilliant
The Opposite of Sex.
strange choice is Pumpkin, which she has also co-produced.
Directed by Anthony Abrams and Adam Larson Broder (who teamed to
write the story for 1998's seriously unclever Dead Man on Campus),
Pumpkin ostensibly satirizes college-melodrama-comedies, but
never quite finds a coherent tone or, for that matter, very
interesting targets for jokes.
Carolyn, the only blond in Alpha Omega Pi, her sorority at Southern
California State University. Apparently, this difference signals her
capacity to think herself free of the herd, which includes head
sister in the house Julie (Marisa Coughlan, whose appearance in a
film might start counting as the kiss of death, given her previous
picks -- Super Troopers, When Freddy Got Fingered,
Gossip) and grumpy Jeanine (Dominique Swain). Desperate to beat
their rivals, Tri Omega, for Sorority of the Year (or some such
ting), AOPi decide to mentor young male athletes prepping for the
At first the
girls are all ewwwy about the venture, Jeanine going so far as to
scream and run off in a panic when she first meets her protege.
Though she is also repulsed by her charge, Pumpkin Romanoff (Hank
Harris), Carolyn tries her best to seem receptive, barely containing
her disgust while teaching him to toss a discus and kick a soccer
ball. After a couple of meetings and passing encouragement from her
tennis star boyfriend Kent (Sam Ball, who has a jaw that looks like
Bruce Campbell's plus a Dudley-Do-Right prosthetic -- amazing),
Carolyn starts to think that Pumpkin can see into her soul. She
attributes this ability to his having suffered pain, which she, of
course, has not.
imagines that experiencing pain will make her deep, and to help her
out, the rest of the film has her suffering a lot of it. Though
Pumpkin's well-intentioned mother (long-suffering Brenda Blethyn)
tries half-heartedly to keep her son away from the girls she comes
to see as a "whore," it's clear that Carolyn's sense of destiny will
prevail. And if her "development" takes her down a few roads she
doesn't anticipate, you can see them coming a mile away. What's less
easy to predict is how and where the film is headed, emotionally and
politically. As Carolyn endures (even actively pursues) one
devastation after another -- loss of her boyfriend, her sorority
membership, her friends, her self-esteem -- Pumpkin's point
becomes increasingly hard to see.
That's not to
say that its possible intentions are hard to see. It seems obvious
that the film is looking to skewer conventions and genres galore --
romantic comedy, Greek-organization farce, West Side Story --
but the jibes are less than original. While the movie makes fun of
all kinds of prejudices (as the sorority girls endeavor to rush
"diversity" quota-fillers, or struggle with their fears of the
"challenged" boys), it encourages viewers to laugh at the targets of
prejudice, much like Farrelly brothers' movies tend to do (remember
Ben Stiller chucking Frisbees at his "challenged" partner's head).
So, Pumpkin's efforts to stand up from his wheelchair, lift weights,
or play soccer are made to look simultaneously "heroic" and offered
as moments for viewers' self-conscious laughter. You pay for your
pleasure. But you still get your pleasure. Sort of.
The film looks
like it wants to be provocative and contrary, but its jibes and
so-called "risks" are run of the mill. It includes several
"incorrect" images and jokes, but descends more often to broad lobs,
at air-headed sorority girls; a self-loving poetry teacher (Harry
Lennix); Carolyn's hideously rich, ignorant, and selfish mother
Chippy (Lisa Banes); Kent and his one-dimensional studly teammates.
The ill-fated, lantern-jawed Kent does catch the brunt of the film's
cruelty, as his sense of shame when Carolyn chooses to bed a
"retard" over him, leads to an incredibly hysterical highway drive,
complete with cliff and screeching brakes, all leading him to become
a "better person." (To its credit, the film here includes a moment
of musical-score overstatement that rivals a Douglas Sirk
But aside from
such brief lunacies and Ricci's straight-faced performance,
Pumpkin mostly settles for jokes that you've already seen
over-killed elsewhere. The aggressive "bad taste" and gotcha humor,
plainly conjured with the intent to appall or surprise, are finally
not so transgressive as they are mainstream and common. Carolyn's
journey takes her rolling over the feelings of various friends and
acquaintances -- not least of all Pumpkin, whom she abuses,
ostensibly unintentionally, again and again. The movie appears to be
making fun of making fun of "retards," "gimps," frat boys,
egomaniacs, et. al. But the "making" part is too strained and the
"fun" part is too stale.
Adam Larson Broder
R - Restricted.
Under 17 not admitted
without parent or