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Pumpkin (Anthony Abrams & Adam Larson Broder) 2002
Disappointingly, the slate of modestly budgeted films that have come about as a result of Francis Ford Coppola’s carte-blanche production deal at MGM/UA have been rather subpar on the whole. Though the previous films he's produced aren't nearly as bad as Pumpkin, the complete misfire that’s the latest disappointment from Coppola’s American Zoetrope, Jeepers Creepers (a warmed over horror film with no payoff), CQ (Coppola’s progeny run amok in soulless wannabe-auterist mode), and No Such Thing (okay, but probably the worst thing Hal Hartley’s done to date) were all second-rate ventures. Pumpkin is a movie that’s so lousy, though, that “second-rate” would be a compliment. The shame is that it didn’t have to be that way.
Certainly, the film’s plot, which follows a vapid Southern California State sorority girl (Christina Ricci) as she begins to have romantic feelings for a retarded boy she’s coaching, offers plenty of opportunity for subversive genius. Unfortunately, the movie never runs with its premise. In the hands of John Waters, who wouldn’t have taken anyone, even the retarded boy seriously, it could have been brilliant, but with first time directors Anthony Abrams and Adam Larson Broder behind the wheel, it feels clumsy and unsure of itself. For a movie that supposedly has balls, it sure as hell takes a long time for someone to say “retarded”. When the movie begins to develop in its last reels into an archly delivered Sirkian melodrama, you get the impression that it’s only doing so because it’s run out of ideas that stay true to its original vision. It tries to have heart, but in doing so diffuses the majority of its satiric bite, and ends up looking inept in its cries of tolerance and acceptance when it attempts to parallel the absurdities of the contests of the sororities and challenged athletes. The actors do what they can, I suppose, and can’t be blamed for this film’s failures. Christina Ricci is wonderfully blonde, self-centered, dumb, and spunky at the start of the movie (she writes an “Ode to Pasadena” for poetry class, without irony). She’s initially interesting because she’s such an obviously comic creation (she’s supposedly NEVER felt pain before in her life) but has to shed most of her freakishly exciting facets as she travels down the nauseating road to respectability. Brenda Blethyn basically reprises the role that she had in Little Voice, but here she’s not even allowed to be obnoxious.
Pumpkin is so clumsily edited that is completely unable to build up any comic steam. Several embarrassing montages seem directed by the domineering pop soundtrack due to their literalist take on the lyrics. This one-note movie stretches on protractedly to an almost two hour running time, and you can’t help but think if they removed the abundant slow-motion shots, they’d shorten it by half. Though the cinematography is fine, pretty pictures don’t help much when the filmmakers’ idea of a visual gag is showing sorority rushes as they eat grilled sausages or cutting to an Englebert Humperdink record to illustrate bad taste. Though Pumpkin is smart enough to raise the question of whether the love affair that fuels it is fetishistic or based on emotional respect, a sidelong glance from Ricci in the final shot feels a wholly inadequate resolution. I couldn’t help but wish it had a little more faith in the audience’s intelligence when resolving itself.