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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Pumpkin
MGM // R // November 5, 2002
List Price: $26.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Adam Tyner | posted November 3, 2002 | E-mail the Author
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"What do you do if everything inside you is ugly?"
"Your life may be ugly, kid, but a successful poem about it will not be ugly...because a poem will illuminate and communicate the horror of your life to other people."
"What do you mean 'the horror of our lives'? Why should anything be horrible or ugly? Why can't everything be beautiful and perfect?"
- Melissa McCarthy, Harry J. Lennix, Christina Ricci; Pumpkin

For more than twenty consecutive years, the Omega Omega Omega sorority has landed the coveted Sorority of the Year award doled out by the Greek Council at SCSU. As indominable as the competition appears to be, newly crowned Alpha Omega Pi president Julie Thurber (Marisa Coughlan; Freddy Got Fingered, Super Troopers) is convinced that this will be the year the tri-Os winning streak comes to a screeching halt. Handpicking the most Caucasian-looking minorities from the pool of pledges is just the first stage of her plan. Julie's master stroke is having the sorority mentor a local group of challenged athletes, and most of her sisters agree that this makes them a lock for Sorority of the Year. Only a couple of the group's members are willing to question this idea, Carolyn McDuffy (Ricci) among them. Coming from a privileged upbringing and dating the university's star tennis player (Sam Ball, who typically seems to be wearing more makeup than any of the gals), Carolyn is perhaps the sorority's greatest asset. She grudgingly agrees to participate, but she can barely stand to look at the athlete she's assigned, the curiously named Pumpkin (Hank Harris; Emory Dick from the WB's guilty pleasure Popular). During their first encounter, Pumpkin can hardly stand on his own two legs, and his attempts to deliver a message to Carolyn proves to be so frustrating that she belts out a primal scream.

Still shaken hours later, Carolyn is convinced that both she and Pumpkin would be better off if she were to drop out of the mentor program. As she trots over to Pumpkin to deliver the news, he stammers, "Carolyn...you are...my friend." Pumpkin is infatuated, and their encounters encourage him to train relentlessly. Carolyn, meanwhile, is hopelessly intrigued with the innocent Pumpkin. As her feelings culminate in a secret late night liason that's soon made all too public, Carolyn systematically alienates herself from everyone around her as she tries to decide what's more important -- conforming to societal norms or embracing her unconventional romance.

I'd read several intensely negative reviews of Pumpkin when it first began its limited theatrical release this past summer. In its first hour, I was somewhat astonished that a quirky dark comedy like this could inspire such vitriol. Carolyn struck me as similar to how Enid or Rebecca from Ghost World may have turned out if sucked into a popular clique instead of diving head-first into misanthropy. Though not quite on the same level as better-known efforts like Election or Ghost World, there are several laugh-out-loud moments, and the blend of comedy, social satire, and creepy drama is carried off reasonably well.

The turning point is when a distraught Carolyn rummages through a bathroom medicine cabinet, ingesting anything and everything in sight in an attempt to take her own life. It's after her collapse that the movie I was enjoying digs one foot firmly into the ground, pivots, and makes a 180 degree turn into mediocrity. The interminable second hour lacks any real direction, wandering aimlessly towards the inevitable sunny Hollywood happy ending. It's not really made clear how long Carolyn has kept her friends and family at arm's length, but by the time the film's final few minutes roll around, the supporting cast is almost unrecognizable, insufferably chipper and loveable. Additional time in pre-production to flesh out a respectable conclusion and a lot of tightening in the editing room would've improved Pumpkin immeasurably.

Carolyn mutters her S.A.T. score at one point in an attempt to dispel the assumption that she's a stereotypical vapid blonde. Nothing she does throughout the course of Pumpkin would indicate that she's dumb, but at the same time, her mention of a 1400 score comes across as an artifical way to add depth to a character who similarly doesn't come off as exceptionally bright either. Pumpkin, on the other hand, changes into an almost completely different character. While remaining sweet and devoted for the duration, the largely silent wheelchair-bound kid from the beginning is given some unbelievably strong semblance of normalcy by the time the end credits roll. I believe I would've found the movie quite a bit more effective if Pumpkin's progress was more incremental. It's difficult to see their romance as terribly taboo if the kid isn't all that different from everyone else.

Thanks to its weak second half, Pumpkin's delivery of the "hey, embrace individuality and don't make baseless assumptions about others" message is inconsistent and about as unconvincing as multi-platinum rock bands prattling on about how they "want to be in the minority" or don't want to "become another victim of your conformity". I've managed to convince myself that Pumpkin could've been an excellent, memorable film, but instead, I found myself mired in "beautiful on the inside" blather in a movie that barely straddles the lines of what I consider to be 'good'. Pumpkin's release on DVD is similarly unremarkable, and a particular disappointment is the lack of a commentary track that could've given the filmmakers an opportunity to explain their goals with the film.

Video: Both a 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation and an open-matte version of Pumpkin are provided on opposite single-layered sides of this DVD release. Contrast appears to have been artificially exaggerated for a fair amount of the film's runtime, resulting in the intermittent presence of haloing and an overall odd appearance. The image is otherwise typical of a low-budget production, boasting quite a bit of film grain and seeming decidedly flat and two-dimensional. A handful of specks and assorted grit can be spotted throughout, and though they're easily ignored, I'm used to seeing cleaner prints for a movie that was still getting at least some minimal theatrical play domestically as recently as a month ago.

Audio: As Pumpkin is a dialogue-driven film, little is asked of the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack. The majority of the audio is appropriately weighted towards the front portion of the soundstage. Surrounds are used primarily to provide scattered ambiance and reinforce the score, though they memorably come into play during a couple of Pumpkin's trippier, almost dreamlike sequences. Subwoofer activity is light, infrequently reserved for the score and the one and only stunt late in the movie. Dialogue is clearly the focus, and it is reproduced without concerns of any sort.

Subtitles are available in English, French, and Spanish.

Supplements: The only extra is an anamorphic widescreen theatrical trailer.

Conclusion: Pumpkin's $26.98 list price is somewhat offputting, especially considering the lack of supplemental material and MGM's tendency to heavily discount their releases within a matter of months. Though the second half doesn't fulfill the promise I felt its first half offered, Pumpkin still succeeds on some level, if largely on the basis of its talented leading lady. I'd certainly recommend Pumpkin as a rental, and it's a movie destined to inspire lengthy discussions on forums like DVD Talk.
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