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Anthony Abrams, Adam Larson Broder
Christina Ricci, Hank Harris, Brenda Blethyn, Dominique Swain, Marisa Coughlan, Sam Ball
Writing Credits:
Adam Larson Broder

Rated R for language and a scene of sexuality.

Widescreen 1.85:1/16x9
Standard 1.33:1
English Dolby Digital 5.1
English, Spanish, French

Runtime: 117 min.
Price: $26.98
Release Date: 11/5/2002

• Theatrical Trailer


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Pumpkin (2002)

Reviewed by David Williams (December 9, 2002)

Only people who suffer can grow in to beauty. - Carolyn McDuffy

Pumpkin is an odd movie to say the least. On one hand, it wants to poke fun at the ideals of middle-class families and virtues, condemn the collegiate Greek system (an easy and oft overused target), show the nobility of misery and the shallowness of the privileged, as well as address the scourge of discrimination prevalent in our society. Then, flip the coin over and the message is conveyed that it’s OK to be different. Well, which is it? Is one rung of society and/or “difference” more admirable than another? Does it take all kinds to make the world go around or just the kind Pumpkin deems acceptable? Anyway, that’s not the point … I digress.

In a nutshell, Pumpkin is the story of an unconventional relationship between perfect and perky sorority girl, Carolyn McDuffy (Christina Ricci), and a mentally/physically handicapped athlete, Pumpkin (Hank Harris). It’s hard to tell if Pumpkin is an overtly sappy and dramatic send-up on how society treats the mentally and physically challenged or if it’s more of a black comedy that stoops to Farrelly Brothers shtick that makes fun of “retards” as a backdrop for a love story about two people who couldn’t be more dissimilar. The problem with either scenario is this; A) the humor just isn’t that funny and B) the love story, as it’s presented in the film, is rather ridiculous and nonsensical. Pumpkin tries to mix equal parts satire and sentimentality and more often than not, ideas contradict and the story disengages the viewer.

The story goes something like this … Carolyn is one of the more fervent members of the Alpha Omega Pi sorority at SCSU and we find the AO Pi’s right in the middle of a catfight for the “Sorority of the Year” title at the school – a title held by the Tri Omegas for 20+ years. In order to wrestle the title from the Tri Omegas, the AO Pi’s are heavily recruiting minorities (“with heavy Caucasian features”) for their sorority and in what’s considered a stroke of genius, they decide to sponsor a group of physically/mentally challenged athletes for the upcoming “Challenged Games” – a move that’s sure to wrap up the title for group.

However, Carolyn isn’t to keen on the idea initially, as she feels that the move is quite risky and could cause harm to the AO Pi “image” on campus. Quickly overruled, Carolyn begrudgingly decides to help in coaching the athletes and she’s assigned to a Pumpkin, a gawky and pleasant looking youth who is confined (somewhat) to a wheelchair. The two couldn’t be more dissimilar, as Carolyn comes from a privileged family, is a star in the SCSU Greek system, and is dating the school’s tennis star, Kent Woodlands (Sam Ball). Pumpkin on the other hand comes from a family that refuses to fully accept or understand his disabilities and stifles his independence. While the first encounter between Carolyn and Pumpkin goes quite bad, the more time Carolyn spends with the special athlete, she finds herself falling for him. Over time, Pumpkin’s character and spirit sparks changes in Carolyn’s own life and her family and friends are not real pleased with the changes.

Carolyn reaches her wit’s end with the battle raging inside her and while dealing with how to handle her feelings between her life as it is and her feelings for Pumpkin, she slowly begins to alienate everyone around her. Her decision culminates in a late night liaison with Pumpkin, as she chooses to do what she feels is right – regardless of what those around her think – and gives in to an unconventional romance with the disabled Pumpkin. Unfortunately for all involved, the relationship becomes very public, things get very nasty, and Carolyn finds herself in the middle of a huge controversy. Her boyfriend doesn’t understand (I wonder why?!?), her sorority sisters obviously don’t approve, parents of neither child understand, and things only get worse from there. Carolyn’s life starts to collapse around her and she’s unsure of what to do – and it seems that the writers were as well - and the film limps toward its quite unusual conclusion.

John Waters this isn’t. The cliché material is hit and miss (more miss than hit) – as are the laughs – and the film becomes nothing more than shooting at fish in a proverbial barrel with its boring one-dimensional characters. The film is neither funny nor touching and there are simply too many superficial moments to make them film remotely credible or authentic – especially Pumpkin’s transformation throughout the film. The guy starts out in a wheelchair and is barely able to speak and by film’s end, he’s dancing and running relays. While I have no doubt that love can conquer all, the stretch we’re asked to make here is a bit too much. Pumpkin is barely recognizable by film’s end and actually looks much like everyone else – the “normal” folk.

Believe me, no one loves independent and small-market films more than I do. I always admire those who go against the grain and try to do something strikingly different from the standard Hollywood fare. I like films that make you think – films that hit on taboo subjects that make you uncomfortable – films that demand a response from the viewer. Pumpkin attempts to do all that and unfortunately, fails at all three. Is the film dark, subversive, or funny? I honestly have no idea.

The DVD Grades: Picture B / Audio C+ / Bonus F

MGM has included two versions of the film for the DVD release of Pumpkin. The flipper disc includes a theatrical version of the film in a 1.85:1 anamorphic presentation, while the other side of the disc includes a fullscreen version of Pumpkin with an aspect ratio of 1.33:1. For purposes of the review, I will only relay information related to the widescreen version of the feature.

The majority of the film looks quite nice, with very bold hues and a very tight image. However, just around the corner, we’ll find a scene that contains instances of edge-enhancement and some noticeable haloing. The film, for the most part, was properly balanced and contrasted with an occasional off-color tone or hue noted. Black levels were spot-on and allowed for nice shadow detail and delineation, while fleshtones seemed overtly red some of the time.

Print flaws were only slightly excessive for such a recent film, but being released in so few markets and independently, Pumpkin was made on a bit tighter budget than most. Most issues were of the run-of-the-mill variety and caused no major concerns whatsoever. Noticeable were the occasional flake and fleck, as well as a slight amount of grain in certain areas.

Either version is fine, but as always, the widescreen version is much preferred and MGM has done an above-average job on the DVD transfer for Pumpkin. It’s definitely not the best in their stable, but the limited audience for the DVD doesn’t require the extra effort.

MGM gives Pumpkin a well-done Dolby Digital 5.1 track that fits the material at hand quite well. Given that the film is a drama/black comedy, you won’t find a lot of action in the track other than a very few moments of ambient material to enhance expansive outdoor and active indoor scenes, as well prop up John Ottman’s score from time to time.

The majority of the film stays firmly anchored in the forward soundstage, with surrounds rarely being used other than in the instances mentioned previously. There were a couple of slightly impressive sequences in the film, but they were probably more memorable because of the lack of anything else substantive in the transfer. Split surrounds and any sort of impressive LFE is never really an issue during the film, as the main focus of Pumpkin was the dialogue. Speaking of such, it’s always front, center, and easily understood without any edginess or distortion detected. The film was a very adequate, albeit lackluster, experience.

MGM has also seen fit to include subtitles in English, Spanish, and French.

A Theatrical Trailer is included and that’s it. Given the film and its likely audience, it’s unlikely that much more was warranted. Hard to fault MGM for the lack of supplements.

This is a film that really had a lot of potential, as my sole reason for asking to review it was the premise. Unfortunately, it ended up being a waste of 120-minutes that I’ll never get back and the directors didn’t even provide me with a commentary track to explain themselves. I’d highly suggest you resist the urge (if you have one) and pass this one up if ever given the chance.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4.1428 Stars Number of Votes: 21
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