Pumpkin  (2002) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

This film gets a lot of points from the critics for trying something different. Imagine a typical afterschool special in which one Greek college sorority tries to win Sorority of the Year by improving its image. In addition to condescending attempts at "diversity", they also decide to take on a high profile charity, and thus get involved in the special olympics.

The way it would play out on TV, the spoiled sorority brat would have her life changed by the realization that there is more to her life than her shallow existence. She would be "enriched" by learning to see the special olympians as people.

The way it would play out in a mainstream movie? Well, you don't need me to describe that. Just watch Legally Blonde. In fact, this film is very similar to Legally Blonde for about thirty minutes. The sorority brat has shallow, superficial friends, cute stuffed animals, and a perky disposition. She has very little interaction with people unlike herself. Then she finds her life changed by something unexpected.

But Pumpkin goes way beyond what you would expect. The sorority sister (Christina Ricci) falls madly in love with one of the more challenged participants in the games, gives up her "sisters", and dumps her boyfriend, who is the star athlete at her school. When she first met her 'tard, he was almost completely wheelchair-bound and couldn't hold any heavy objects in his spastic limbs. In the course of the movie, he not only gets up and walks, but wins the big race by coming from behind, and - in a truly weird plot twist - beats up the star athlete in a fair fight. Sure, that's realistic. (Well, he really worked out in his back yard.) Ah, the power of the love of a good woman. It's only a matter of time before he solves Fermat's Last Theorem and replaces Jeter at shortstop for the Yankees. Did I mention that the special boy appears to be about 15 years old, or that she is a college senior, therefore about 21 or 22? Did I mention that his mother catches them in the sack together, just the two of them and his Star Wars toys?

To be fair for a minute, the film avoids any conclusions about the actual mental and physical limitations of the boy. It is possible that he was misdiagnosed and that he has been mishandled by an alcoholic mother, so the script leaves his sudden rapid development as a possibility, albeit a remote one. The boy insists he is not retarded or special. But then again, if he were retarded, would he be smart enough to realize it?

The film isn't finished with the plot twists yet. Consider the mental state of the star athlete boyfriend. Not only has he been dumped by his girl, but he's been dumped for a 'tard. All the guys in the locker room are checking his manhood to see if it is deficient. When he is not only dumped by Ricci, but gets his ass kicked by a crippled 'tard as well, he is so despondent that he drives his car off a cliff, and ends up in the special games himself, suddenly wheelchair-bound and good buddies with the young boy who beat him up.

If you're reading along fairly carefully, you probably realize that this film sails in a very narrow passage between the Charybdis of cloying sentimentality and the Scylla of heartless coal-black satire. Reviewers varied widely in their reactions, as you might expect. Some loved the risk-taking nature of the project, and thought it was both hilarious and touching. Others thought it was tasteless, or that the humor bombed, or that the writers just didn't know how to resolve the storylines credibly.

Top reviewers ranged as widely as the more general sampling. Pulitzer winner Roger Ebert awarded 3.5 stars in the top range, but the equally respected Pumpkin sits in a patch somewhere between mirthless Todd Solondzian satire and callow student film", and ragged on it "for the dragging, lurching look and shape of the storytelling, or for the challenged, unsure performances of the actors".



  • one of the rival sorority girls (Erinn Bartlett) shows her breasts from the side-rear in a sex scene

  • a bikini top and poking nipples from Christina Ricci

Several critics had a point about the film's final act. It was really getting sappy there for a while, and the dialogue was unbelievably trite. Example: after the special boy wins the big race by coming from about 95 yards behind in a 100 yard run (* see below) , the former star athlete says to Ricci with no (apparent) irony - "I know a better man when I see one - he's all yours". You'll notice that I put the word "apparent" in parentheses. The script may be operating on a level of very deep irony here. The directors (that plural is no typo - there were two) and screenwriters may have felt that having the actors play it straight was the only way to make the irony subtle enough so that the film could operate simultaneously as a sentimental love story and a cynically ironic satire.

I'm just not sure because other elements of the film seem to be outside the cynical weltanschauung and are genuinely sappy. When the athlete is in the hospital after his crash, for example, his only visitor is the handicapped guy, who brings him flowers, even though the last time they had seen each other was the fight. I think this was meant to show the purity of the special boy's heart, and was without irony.

On the other hand, some elements of the film are deeply ironic. The athlete guy drives over about a 200 foot seaside cliff at tremendous speed, and we see his car in flames on the way down toward the surf far below. But the next time we see him, he looks great and seems perfectly OK except for losing the use of his legs. In this instance, they were obviously making fun of their own storyline. Weren't they? It was like one of those moments when Wily Coyote falls a mile down a cliff, and then walks away unharmed except that his legs are shortened to dachshund length. Danny Aiello had a similar fall in Hudson Hawk, emerged with hardly a scar, and attributed his survival to the expensive car's air bags and an excellent sprinkler system. The Pumpkin script didn't go to such an exaggerated length to make the point, but it was still obvious that no human could have survived that crash.

DVD info from Amazon.

  • widescreen anamorphic 1.85 formats

  • no meaningful features

So you don't ever really know where the film is going, and that's probably why reviewers were polarized.

I didn't much care for the film, but I can see how it could appeal to people who are sick of the traditional Hollywood approach. It is certainly different. I did like the very end of it. I can't really spoil the very final surprise for you, because it really comes out of left field, but I have to say that the final ten seconds did a lot to redeem what up until that point had been a very lame, syrupy resolution.

* footnote:

Ok, it is theoretically possible. I'll admit that in a previous life I lost a 100 yard dash with a 95 yard lead, but c'mon, that was in the Aztec games. Only the first-place winner gets his heart torn out, because only the very greatest are an acceptable sacrifice to the gods. Those Aztec gods had very high standards.

I did apologize to my fans and the bookies who took a beating on that race, but I really stirred the crowd when I swore to try much harder to get my heart torn out the following year. Unfortunately, I ran a streak of twenty four consecutive years of second place finishes before I retired. I think they were suspicious the year I lost to the wheelchair guy.

So you see - it can happen!

The Critics Vote

  • General consensus: no consensus. The reviews varied widely. I suppose you could say "three stars with some very strong dissents". Ebert 3.5/4, Berardinelli 3/4, filmcritic.com 1.5/5, efilmcritic.com 4/5, Film Threat 3/5.

The People Vote ...

  • with their dollars: It was received quite well at Sundance, but it never reached more than 19 screens - $300,000 gross - and went to DVD a month after it left theaters.


IMDb guideline: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence, about like three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, about like two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, about like two stars from the critics. Films under five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film, equivalent to about one and a half stars from the critics or less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.

Based on this description, C+. Off-beat, to say the least. Loved by many. Despised by some. Ignored by theater-goers.  Worth a look if you are interested in something very different, but it had no mainstream appeal at all. The entire box office must have consisted of relatives of the cast, yet many reviewers cherish it dearly!

Return to the Movie House home page