It’s rare to see a film that you wish had been a little more offensive, so right off the bat Pumpkin gets points for being a rarity. It’s a story of a too-perfect and ultranaive sorority girl named Carolyn McDuffy (Christina Ricci) who falls in love with a physically and mentally challenged young man named Pumpkin Romanoff (Hank Harris). The film bears a passing resemblance, both thematically and visually, to a late-period John Waters concoction, but without that curdled maestro’s always-present undercurrent of genuine hostility. Like Tadpole, it wants to get into a dicey area while staying on cozy terms with its audience.
There’s also the matter of its awkward mix of social satire and melodramatic parody. The first part of the film spends its time shooting arrows at barn-sized targets — the vacuity of sorority sisters, the prejudicial exclusiveness of the wealthy, the narcissistic obliviousness of jocks. This sets up a world of cartoonish unlikable folk in which our heroine can be seen as the last hope for human decency. But in order to reach that point, she has to go through the tedious process of redemption, triggered by her sorority’s unlikely project of helping handicapped young men in their athletic endeavors. This leads to her to meeting, being repulsed by and then inexplicably falling in love with the hapless Pumpkin.
The second part of the film deals with Carolyn’s disgrace and temporary exile from her peers, her über-jock ex-boyfriend’s hugely ironic comeuppance and Pumpkin’s triumph over the forces of narrow-mindedness. It shifts gears from broad satire to tongue-in-cheek dramatic overkill, before finally wrapping up its overlong two hours with a conventional sports-movie ending. What keeps the film puffing along is a wonderful performance by Ricci, who seems acutely aware of the movie’s shifting tone even as the screenwriters lose their way. That, and an amusing one by Sam Ball as the improbably handsome jock who learns the hard way that there’s more to life then being a perfect specimen and a total ass.
Opens Friday exclusively at the Maple Art Theatre (4135 W. Maple, W of Telegraph). Call 248-542-0180.
Richard C. Walls writes about film for Metro Times. E-mail him at [email protected].