A Missed Opportunity
Starring: Christina Ricci, Hank Harris,
Brenda Blethyn, Marisa
Coughlan, Dominique Swain, and
Runtime: 116 min.
Distributor: United Artists with American
Director: Adam Larson Broder and Tony R.
Executive Producer: Francis Ford Coppola, Linda
Reisman and Willi Baer
Producer: Karen Barber, Christina Ricci,
Andrea Sperling, Albert
Berger, and Ron Yerxa
Writer: Adam Larson Broder
Address Comments To:Alex Yemenidjian, CEO
2500 Broadway Street
Santa Monica, CA 90404-3061
Phone: (310) 449-3000
Fax: (310) 449-3024
Carolyn (Christina Ricci) meets a mentally and physically handicapped young man named Pumpkin (Hank Harris) while serving with her sorority sisters as volunteer coaches for a Special Olympics type of event. The sorority really has no concern for the “special” people they are helping. They just want a killer charity project to help them win the coveted “S.O.Y.” (Sorority of the Year) trophy. The filmmakers go to great pains throughout the movie to show just how superficial life is in the “perfect” world of the collegiate Greek system. They do it both effectively and humorously.
As Carolyn works with her trainee, Pumpkin, she discovers an honest, “pure” and loving soul being behind his eyes. This, at first, freaks her out because it causes emotions to arise in her that she never expected. She tells her mother, “I feel the need to get to know him better, but I really don’t want anything to do with him.” His kindness and authenticity not only challenge her spoiled mindset of perfection, but also touch her heart. She eventually falls in love with him.
Their love brings about a Romeo and Juliet type of situation. Carolyn is snubbed by her Greek system friends. She has disappointed her parents that want her to marry her rich fraternity boyfriend, Kent (Sam Ball). Pumpkin’s mother, Joy (Brenda Blethyn), has been raising him alone since his father died when he was young. She is obsessively protective and won’t allow him to grow up. When Pumpkin’s affections turn toward another woman, she becomes envious and even more domineering. As Carolyn and Pumpkin negotiate these obstacles and work out their relationship, there are plenty of both heart wrenching and funny scenes to keep your attention throughout the film.
A notable comedic subplot is Carolyn’s change of heart as illustrated through her poetry class. She has a revolutionary poetry teacher who sees everything through angry eyes. In his view, unless you are emotionally agitated you will never create anything worthwhile. In the midst of her newly conflicted life, Carolyn has a meeting with this professor over a cheesy poem she has written, “Ode to Pasadena.” At first, he begins to admonish her over what a piece of fluff it is, until he hears her heartfelt reading of it, then he is a bit confused. However, in the midst of her reading, she stops and agrees with him. She is upset over the way she has been ostracized and how people perceive her new love interest, Pumpkin. “People are mean, brutal and jealous,” fumes Carolyn. Her teacher responds excitedly, “We’re making progress!” A bell tolls in the background as if she is undergoing a religious awakening. In a sense she is – her worldview is turning from inward to outward.
On a more serious note, Carolyn takes Pumpkin on a double date to the beach. She is in denial about her attraction to him so she takes her tennis star boyfriend and has set Pumpkin up with another girlfriend of hers who is plain looking and overweight. Her rationale is that both Pumpkin and the overweight girl must have suffered similar pain and rejection and may find, in each other, the beauty Carolyn has recognized behind their “flawed” exteriors. The whole plan goes haywire. The girl freaks out because, as flawed as she is, she cannot accept that she ranks with a “retard.” Carolyn’s boyfriend is furious that she was so insensitive. He demands that she take the girl home. In the chaos, they leave Pumpkin at the beach for hours. When Carolyn finally returns, she is crushed. “Pumpkin you are so beautiful. How can you stand the pain?” In her empathy for him, she tells him that her pain feels like a broken mirror. Pumpkin replies, “Pain feels exactly like a broken mirror. You are the smartest girl I’ve ever met.” She tells him the little pain she feels makes her feel even closer to him.
Too much time is spent on satirizing the people who make up the Greek system and its traditions. Not enough depth is given to the development of the challenging relationship between Carolyn and Pumpkin. It makes what is supposed to be Carolyn’s dramatic transformation from a shallow selfish mindset into a deeper sense of humanity seem, well . . . shallow. Maybe the producers are happy to simply point us toward a more inclusive view of physically and mentally challenged people. If so, this is where the dilemma of the R-rating comes into play.
The simplicity mentioned is forgivable for a lighter, family-oriented film. There would be children in the audience to catch the main message of inclusiveness, and the adults would fill in the blanks for themselves. However, the foul language and sexual immorality is depicted at such a high level, that only the R-rated audience will remain. Ultimately, the imbalanced mixture of comedy with the drama of a life transformed to love the imperfect is confusing and comes off as “camp.”
PUMPKIN spends too much time satirizing the Greek system and not enough developing the more difficult subject of Carolyn and Pumpkin’s love. Such simplicity is forgivable for a lighter, family-oriented film. Children in the audience would catch the main message, while adults fill in the blanks themselves. However, the high level of foul language and sexual immorality limits this movie to a small R-rated audience. The imbalanced mixture of comedy with the drama of a life transformed to love the imperfect is confusing, and its redemptive message is lost in “camp.