“We’re always waiting for Ricci’s trademark sneer to materialize, but it never does. Too bad; it might have given Pumpkin a much-needed edge…”
First-time directors often struggle to find the right tone for their films. And directing teams – even experienced ones – most likely have a harder time agreeing on a singular voice for a movie than a lone filmmaker does. So imagine the stylistic mess that might occur if a pair of first-time directors teamed up to helm a movie together. Actually, if you see Pumpkin, you don’t have to imagine. The evidence is right there on the screen.
I wanted to like Pumpkin. I really did. The premise – snob falls for retarded kid – is certainly ripe with comedic potential. But directors Adam Larson Broder and Tony R. Abrams (whose only other credits are as the writing duo behind Dead Man on Campus) appear to have taken this really great idea and played an arduous game of tug-of-war with it. Apparently, neither won.
The story follows Carolyn (Christina Ricci), an uppity sorority girl, as she falls in love with Pumpkin (Hank Harris), the disabled boy she’s coaching for a Special Olympics-type event. Upon professing her forbidden love, she’s forced to fight the discriminatory attitude of her parents, her boyfriend, Pumpkin’s mom, and her fellow sorority sisters, who only agreed to mentor the disabled athletes in order to win a Sorority of the Year contest. While there are some very funny moments, the movie swings so erratically between satire and melodrama – with periodic ventures into total farce – that it’s never quite clear how to take things. Is it a sly send-up? A treacly tear-jerker? A wacky caper? There’s no telling.
Even worse, the newly-platinum Ricci (who now looks like a Blythe doll, with her giant, heart-shaped head bobbing around on top of an impossibly tiny, size 00 body) can’t quite escape the specter of Reese Witherspoon. Having recently given the definitive characterization of the eternally perky, blonde sorority girl, Witherspoon’s shadow looms large over Pumpkin. Not helping matters, Ricci, the queen of disaffected sarcasm, never quite convinces as an earnest airhead. Like some sort of Stepford actress, she gives a curiously unnatural performance that recalls the brilliantly reluctant smile she mustered as Wednesday Addams outside the Harmony Hut in Addams Family Values. As in that moment, here we’re always waiting for Ricci’s trademark sneer to materialize, but it never does. Too bad; it might have given Pumpkin a much-needed edge. As it is, despite slight similarities to Heathers, Legally Blonde and even West Side Story, Pumpkin never acheives the success of those much better films.