Pumpkin (2002), or Love, Soft As A Wheelchair

23 02 2009
Christina Ricci makes a bold move by becoming a character who loves a handicapped man. But is it funny?

Christina Ricci makes a bold move by becoming a character who loves a handicapped man. But is it funny?

Salutations, everyone! Comedy Week busts through your front door today and roughs you up for some money to buy PCP! Don’t forget that it was by popular vote, so you unleashed it upon yourselves! Today we examine the black comedy, a genre that can really bite when done correctly. Dr. Strangelove, Drop Dead Gorgeous, and Heathers have all made lasting impressions in the comedy world for their portrayal of very serious issues in a comedic light. Certainly nuclear war is not funny, but when Peter Sellers as the doctor himself is basically frothing at the mouth over the idea, I can see the humor. It is finding the humorous, if not alternately tragic, side of a morose situation, and Pumpkin is certainly that.

Carolyn is a beautiful young sorority girl. She is your average upper class girl, complete with hollow sorority friends and a tennis jock (?) boyfriend who also has no soul. In order to win a contest, she and her fellow sorority sisters decide to do some charitable work with the mentally and physically handicapped, namely training a group of them for the Challenged Games (movie version of Special Olympics). Carolyn is not too thrilled with the concept, and neither are any of her friends. But when she meets her trainee, a young man in a wheelchair named Pumpkin, she finds herself in a strange case; the more she knows about him, the more she finds herself liking him, and eventually realizing she might love him. He feels the same way, and articulates in his own way how he feels about her. Pumpkin is genuine, unlike everyone else in her life, and likes her for who she is. Nobody else is too keen on the idea, however. Pumpkin’s mother, her sorority friends, and her lame tennis badass boyfriend all think it’s just plain wrong. And things only get worse when Carolyn is found in bed with her handicapped paramour by his mother and she is accused of raping him. Can the couple try to make everyone in their lives accept what they have together? Can Carolyn train Pumpkin to be the best athlete he can be for the Challenged Games? Can these two star-crossed lovers truly be together?

Wow. I was honestly taken aback at first by the premise. Just looking at it on paper, it actually sounds like, well… not that much like a comedy. But watching it, it can actually be pretty jocund in its own mischievous way. Let me be clear that this film is very respectful of the handicapped. It is one of the few movies in which they are not depicted as victims or cruel parodies, but three-dimensional human beings with joys and burdens just like you and me. Do not make the mistake of thinking they are being exploitative. You would miss out on a pretty good little movie.

The jokes are definitely there, you just have to be patient and have a wicked streak. At the beginning, one of the sorority girls freaks out at actually being close to a mentally challenged person, screaming at her trainee, “I’M REALLY SORRY CASEY! IT’S NOT YOUR FAULT! IT’S NOT MINE! IT’S THE SYSTEM!” and runs off like a fucking lunatic! Classic! Everyone in the sorority is such a pain in the ass that it makes you want to find one rich girl a day and punch her in the face, every day for the rest of your life. And at one point, after being dumped for Pumpkin, Carolyn’s clichĂ© tennis jock boyfriend drives off a cliff in a drunken stupor, and as he drives off the cliff, the car bursts into flames as soon as the wheels stop touching the ground! WHAT? HUH? And interestingly enough, I know for a fact that they lifted that footage, because I saw the same car explode in Bruce Willis’s extreme vanity project, Hudson Hawk! Small world, right?

Like all black comedies, there are moments of dire seriousness where nothing is very funny, and that is okay, but this one is very sparse sometimes on the humor and I contemplated not even writing a review for this at first on the grounds that it would not be funny enough. But on closer consideration, a comedy does not have to make you laugh every two minutes. Hell, it doesn’t even need to make you laugh every ten minutes, as long as it has an intent to make you laugh. But, to be fair for all the fast-paced comedy fans, this is probably not the one for you.

As for the cast and crew, I tried finding some info on the directors Anthony Abrams and Adam Larson Broder, but this is the only movie they ever did besides writing Dead Man On Campus together, another black comedy. They do a good job, and  hope to see these guys again one day. And the actors? Well, Christina Ricci practically glows for this role. She seems to be made for a dramedy like this, with her fragile, cute looks and her quick wit. This was probably her best work since Buffalo ’66 (another PSA for the future, to be sure), and though she has gone on to make many more movies, I still think this has to be in her top three roles. Hank Harris plays Pumpkin, and though he has gone on to do basically nothing, I hope he comes back in a big way because this movie was perfect for him. He played the part with dignity and I appreciated him not resorting to any stereotypes. Well played, Hank!

The soundtrack is very good, but from my research only the score is available to buy. There are a lot of good, moving indie tracks from bands like Gentle Waves, Sourcerer, and Icelandic vocalist Emiliana Torrini. Go find the song credits at the end of the movie and start downloading if you like them, because conveniently available they are not.

So all in all I liked it. It was enjoyable, it definitely takes some risks, and should most certainly use more viewings than it currently receives. Imagine Wes Anderson directing a blend of Romeo and Juliet and The Ringer. Now if that sounds remotely up your alley, then make your next webpage Netflix and rent away! Otherwise it can be a little distancing with its unique blend of offbeat comedy and sadness. I enjoyed it though, and if you are anything like me, you will too. I give Pumpkin 7 1/2 prematurely exploding vehicles out of 10.

Stay tuned for more Comedy Week tomorrow, where we grapple with Wild Hogs!