Review by Michael Jacobson
Christina Ricci, Hank Harris, Brenda Blethyn, Dominique Swain, Marisa
Coughlan, Sam Ball
Directors: Adam Larson Broder and Tony R. Abrams
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Features: Theatrical Trailer
Length: 117 Minutes
Release Date: November 5, 2002
afraid I’m falling in love, and I don’t want to!”
is not such a bad thing, is it?”
it is. He’s mentally retarded.”
is a study
in contradictions. It’s a black
comedy with a heart of gold…wickedly funny with a sweetness that almost seems
to undermine its humor, over the top in both style and sensitivity, and people
with characters so comfortable in their shallowness that finding the least
amount of depth within themselves wreaks havoc and causes undoing.
exception to that last rule is the title character, Pumpkin (Harris), a
“challenged” athlete who is introduced as both physically and mentally
impaired, with one of those charming movie disabilities that’s never named nor
explained. His simplicity is easily
mistaken for a kind of grand honesty and directness; because he doesn’t know
how nor care to B. S., he forces those who do to instantly re-evaluate
I should back up. The true star of Pumpkin
is Carolyn McDuffy (Ricci), a college senior and sorority staple at Alpha
Omega Pi at a college where she would “be an honor student, if not for my
sorority activities”. Her
interaction with her sisters is on a level so saccharine it would be part of the
subplot in more brainless youth comedies.
on winning the prestigious SOY (Sorority of the Year) Award, the sisters decide
on a very visible act of charity: to
help coach “special” athletes to participate in the “challenged” games
(the way this movie gleefully flaunts its political correctness is very
anti-PC!), which some of the parents take ridiculously seriously. That’s where Carolyn meets Pumpkin.
first, she feels put off and awkward, and wants no part of the wheelchair bound
discus thrower. But something in
his eyes starts to win her over. She
senses his pain and his good soul…or is it her own emptiness that causes her
to project robust values into him? We’re
not sure, and neither is the movie. All
we know is that Carolyn begins to sense the vacuum that is her life and fall for
Pumpkin, especially when the first real sentence he says to her is, “You’re
falls for Carolyn as well, and while she finds life at her sorority and with her
cream-cheese sculpted boyfriend Kent (Ball) turning upside down, Pumpkin’s
feelings for her are actually helping him become a better man.
He needs his wheelchair less and less, while his training progresses
better and better.
can a romance exist between a pert California sorority blonde and an impaired
boy? Not in society’s eyes.
At one point, her mother runs down a laundry list of races and creeds she
fears her daughter’s taken up with, only to realize nothing was so bad as a
retarded man. Pumpkin’s own
mother (Blethyn), who seems to regard her son more with exaggerated tolerance
than with love, disapproves of the positive changes coming over him, convinced
he doesn’t understand.
any good black comedy, this film finds humor in many things people wouldn’t
normally laugh at, and they aren’t necessarily the targets you would think.
We don’t chuckle at Pumpkin’s disabilities (though the trailer adds
sound effects to try and make it seem so).
We laugh at more tragic occurrences despite ourselves.
One particularly harsh one, which I will not divulge, is so deliberately
telegraphed that you wait for it helplessly, and the last reaction you expect to
have to the outcome is laughter. But
it comes. The screenplay by
co-director Adam Larson Broder doesn’t let anyone off easily or comfortably.
movie constantly and entertainingly re-evaluates itself, questioning even its
own motives. It succeeds in making
us laugh, moving us, and making us care about the characters.
It’s extremely sharp and decidedly daring, taking the big risks in
hopes of the big payoff. Ultimately, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a more memorable
last shot since Truffaut’s The 400 Blows…a simple glance that smugly
pulls the rug out from under “happily ever after”.
And it’s at that point that you appreciate the true genius of Pumpkin.
Thinking back, I realized he was a character not seen nearly as much
as he was talked about, thus coaxing us into forming our opinions of him based
on other’s reactions instead of fact!
cast is solid from top to bottom…I enjoyed Hank Harris’ innocent turn as the
title character, and Sam Ball’s amusing resemblance to a young Cary Elwes in
both physique and mannerisms. But
the real pleasure of the picture is Christina Ricci. Watching her blossom from a terrific child star into an
actress of substance and breadth has been one of the great joys of my movie
critiquing career. I think she
turns in her best performance to date as Carolyn, and I can think of no other
actress who would have been so suited for the role’s comic edginess.
is one of
the best films of the year, and one of the boldest and most original comedies in
some time. In many ways, it’s
this year’s Ghost World…daring, different, and comfortably on the
is a solid anamorphic offering from MGM (full frame version also included).
The coloring is particularly good from start to finish, with rich,
natural tones and a wide palate mixed with good levels of detail.
One or two brief long shots, particularly at the beach, are a tad softer
with a little bit of texture showing up as grain, but these are extremely few
and quickly passing. High overall
5.1 mix is lively, even if it barely calls the rear channels and subwoofer into
play. The music and songs are
enjoyable, and dialogue is clean and clear throughout.
A few livelier moments add dynamic range, and though the back stage use
is intermittent, it does come into play cleverly during a few key scenes.