"Pumpkin" boldly goes where many, many films have gone before. It's a wrong-side of the tracks romance featuring vapid, self-absorbed sorority girls as its comedic foil. As satiric challenges go, this is akin to hitting the ocean with a beach ball.
But "Pumpkin" is funny. Frequently funny and often very funny. And if you stop to think about it, you might be surprised by what you were just laughing at.
Christina Ricci plays Carolyn McDuffy, arriving for her senior year at Southern California State University feeling super peppy. This year her AOPi sisters have a plan to wrest the coveted Sorority of the Year award from the rival house across the street. But Carolyn is highly discomforted when she finds out the sorority's off-campus charity will involve mentoring the mentally challenged. This is apparently the first time in her life that Carolyn has been highly discomforted and only the shame of being more shallow than her sisters forces her to face one of God's unpleasant mistakes. His name is Pumpkin, and her job is to teach him to throw a discus for the upcoming Challenged Games.
Pumpkin is immediately smitten with Carolyn, and Carolyn finds her forced tolerance of Pumpkin grow into sympathy, curiosity and then strange obsession. Her life begins to completely unravel one day after she secretly arranges a double date: her and her perfectly chiseled tennis star boyfriend, Kent joining Pumpkin on a blind date with a fat lonely girl from Carolyn's poetry class who wasnt told that Pumpkin is retarded. Carolyn is the only one of the four not aghast at this gesture, and as she tries to reconcile all this strange new unpleasantness, she begins to lose her place in the world. Only the truth will set her free. And the truth is that she has fallen in love with the imperfect but emotionally pure Pumpkin.
From this premise, which looks potentially cringe-inducing on paper, directors Adam Larson Broder and Tony Abrams have made a film that dances with reckless confidence through the very minefield it creates. Dishing sorority girls may be easy, but toying with the affections of a mentally challenged romantic lead isnt. Of course satire is supposed to be dangerous. And just when you think Pumpkin isnt going to go there....it goes there. While it goes on a good 15 minutes past the point where it could have been a tour de force, the film manages to successfully wrap everything up and give it a deep, dark wink at the very last second.
"Pumpkin" is clearly a Christina Ricci vehicle. And Ricci, wearing a blonde wig and seemingly riffing on Reese Witherspoon - is fine. Ditto Hank Harris as the gape-mouthed Pumpkin Romanoff. Both actors spend a lot of time squinting and wincing as conflicting emotions are introduced, giving the excellent cast of supporting characters ample time to steal the show. Brenda Blethyn as Pumpkin's mother, engaged in her own fierce rivalry with the mother of another challenged athlete, Lisa Banes as Carolyn's mother Chippy McDuffy, a Pasadena aristocrat who refuses to have the smile wiped off her face, Sam Ball as the too good to be true boyfriend, Kent, who turns out to be better then we imagined, and Harry Lennix as an embittered poetry teacher, bent on getting his students to see the ugliness in life.
Sound like fun? Well it is. If you can stop being aghast, Pumpkin just might win you over.
© 2002 - Casey McCabe - Air Date: 7/3/02
USA - 2002