The ignorant Carolyn (Christina Ricci) leads the perfect life of a college senior -- she's an officer in her sorority and dates Kent (Sam Ball), the tennis team stud. Everything is going well until it's decided that her sorority will mentor the handicapped adults of the Challenged Games (think Special Olympics). Carolyn is against the charity selection, but the sorority president (Marisa Coughlan) believes helping these special athletes train will give the sorority enough points to win Sorority of the Year.
Carolyn is assigned to mentor Pumpkin (Hank Harris). Initially appalled by such an assignment, she later discovers he has a much deeper soul than her naivety once made her believe. I'm not exactly sure I buy this convenient change of attitude considering the very few scenes with them together in which this could realistically unfold, but of course Pumpkin is instantly attracted to her and quickly Carolyn's feelings change from platonic to romantic. This angers Pumpkin's overprotective mom (Brenda Blethyn) and triggers the downward spiral of Carolyn's perfect life.
Put simply, Pumpkin has too many awkward moments where you really don't know how to react. This is painfully introduced in an early scene where Pumpkin and his friends are led off a bus and challenged to match headshots of the girls to the "real" thing standing across from them. Later, as Carolyn starts to fall for Pumpkin, she preaches to her sorority sisters that people like Pumpkin have feelings just like everyone else. Carolyn's good-natured feelings however ultimately end up creating tragic consequences for herself, her boyfriend, and her sorority. What message is this film trying to convey? One moment we're supposed to sympathize for those with disabilities, and the next we're supposed to laugh when these handicaps lead to a multitude of unhappy events?
It's difficult to feel anything for this movie especially when the characters are so shallowly drawn. Pumpkin is in a wheelchair because of his disability, but we're never given any insight into what that is or what led to it. The only time he rides in the chair is in the beginning, and amazingly a scene later he is able to stand, walk, and eventually compete in a marathon. I never realized how quickly someone could be cured of such crippling handicaps. I guess we're supposed to believe that Carolyn's inspiration has caused this complete turnaround, but instead it reeks of poor character development.
Tragically, Pumpkin just does not work as a comedy. It does reach something a bit more tangible in the end, yet those laughs are triggered by the stereotypes typical of all Greek life-comedies. This material would have faired far better as a more dramatic tale where we could witness Pumpkin's progression toward improving his athletic abilities, inspired by the coaching and love from Carolyn. This alternative could have even worked within the context of Carolyn's involvement with her sorority and the ostracizing she receives because of her closeness to Pumpkin.
Anyone who has any compassion or respect for the struggles disabled people face will find the majority of this film's satire offensive. Rather than spending the two hours watching Pumpkin degrade those with disabilities, why not donate your time to helping them achieve some real success?
Run time: 113 mins
In Theaters: Friday 12th March 2004
Box Office USA: $0.1M
Distributed by: MGM
Contactmusic.com: 1.5 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 36%
Fresh: 27 Rotten: 47
IMDB: 6.3 / 10
Screenwriter: Adam Larson Broder
Starring: Christina Ricci as Carolyn McDuffy, Hank Harris as Pumpkin Romanoff, Brenda Blethyn as Judy Romanoff, Dominique Swain as Jeanine Kryszinsky, Marisa Coughlan as Julie Thurber, Harry Lennix as Robert Meary (Poetry teacher), Nina Foch as Betsy Collander, Caroline Aaron as Claudia Prinsinger, Lisa Banes as Chippy McDuffy, Julio Oscar Mechoso as Dr. Frederico Cruz, Phil Reeves as Burt Wohlfert, Marisa Petroro as Courtney Burke, Tait Smith as Hansie Prinsinger, Michael Bacall as Casey Whitner, Samuel Ball as Kent Woodlands, Melissa McCarthy as Cici Pinkus