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Pumpkin is a very subtle movie. Just try to place it in a genre, and you see right away that it defies all classifications but one--and that's the one that seems most unlikely.
Is it a comedy? Well, it isn't funny, ha-ha, as much as funny, ahem; so it can't really be called a comedy. And it's not a spoof, at least not intentionally, because the college-set tale has every opportunity to ape Animal House and doesn't give in to the temptation once. Some characters are satirized, but not in a way that would inspire mirth. No, not a comedy.
Is it a drama? It contains drama, to be sure, but the tragedies and tribulations either involve characters we can't care about or are the personal, unrisky dramas of Christina Ricci's character, a rich sorority sister who suddenly wakes up to the shallowness of her existence. Between the broad-stroked good people and evil people, the grossly exaggerated moments of revelation and the fundamental needlessness of it all, this film defies the basic precept of drama: that something dramatic should happen.
It's not a documentary, not an action/adventure, not a western, not a music video. It isn't film noir because there's a relatively happy ending and no sense of doom external to the protagonist.
No, Pumpkin is, in truth and forsooth, a cyberpunk masterpiece. In cyberpunk, a parallel reality is created that closely mimics our own except for an exaggeration here, a fabrication there. We recognize the southern California university town in this film as one like the one in our reality. Except in Pumpkin, the Greek system IS the university and their striving for the Sorority of the Year prize is the most important thing in all the land. We recognize the phoniness in the Greekies as close to what some fraternity and sorority members in our reality exhibit on occasion, but in Pumpkin, that phoniness comprises 100% of their characters. Rich people, we know, are subject to certain naivetes about the world of middle and lower income people, but in Pumpkin, rich people are self-centered, racist, sexist, anti-Semitic hate-mongers in constant denial lest their little fairy fiefdoms fall apart. Reality is like ours, but skewed slightly. But is it Cyberpunk? Let me continue.
Cyberpunk almost always includes a blatant comment on the evils of our society. Blade Runner made no bones about pointing fingers at the soul-rotting profiteering of corporations and the messes that we humans make in our "hunger for the cabbage," to quote Boots Riley. Blade Runner is a modern day Frankenstein, and it asks the same questions as Mary Shelley's classic: can humans create life and call it good? Wow! Pumpkin also tackles big social issues head-on. Even though most people in society nowadays are fairly conscious of the right way to treat developmentally challenged people, there are those who call out "retard" and basically ignore the fact that all people have feelings. Pumpkin sets up a good dozen characters who embody misunderstanding for the developmentally challenged. These characters malign and belittle our eponymous hero Pumpkin and Christina Ricci, too, when she falls in love with him.
Which brings me to exhibit three. Weird things happen in cyberpunk. Neal Stephenson's novel Snow Crash portrays a convoluted world of conspiracy and technology. A floating nation washes up on the shores of California. A monstrously strong Aleut murderer develops a soft spot for the one person who can destroy him. A robot dog rescues a half-Apache, half-Japanese samurai skateboarder. It's actually a really good read. In Pumpkin, very unlikely things also happen. Christina Ricci's sorority sister is a rich, sheltered, shallow girl. (Shallowness is not a quality universal to sorority girls except in Pumpkin, but please understand that the film makes a significant show of portraying her as shallow.) Her sorority does a community service of helping Special Olympians train.
Now here's where it gets weird. One sorority sister flips out, screams at her special partner and runs away with the serious icks. Even weirder, after two afternoon training sessions with Pumpkin, Christina Ricci falls in love with him. Totally. She falls in love with his soul. And she slowly and clumsily starts to extricate herself from 1) her super-hunk tennis-star boyfriend, 2) her sorority and all that means, and 3) her ultra-rich family.
"Yes, that's weird," you say, "but cyberpunk weird?" Wait.
Ricci also becomes a poet and, in the world of the work, is regarded as having some talent at it (though it doesn't translate well off of the screen). Pumpkin, the character, meanwhile, manages to 1) permanently leave his wheelchair and walk, 2) bag the darling of the sorority world, and 3) beat the super-hunk tennis-star boyfriend in a fight. "It must be the training," he slurs, astonished at his own power and sad that he might have hurt Mr. Hunk.
Hunk does some odd things too. 1) He oscillates between shallow dude and deep dude depending on the needs of the script; 2) He declares himself a free man and plays the field at the rival sorority only to discover that Ricci is the only one he truly wants; and 3) he gets so upset at being beaten in a fight, and for Ricci's affections, by Pumpkin that he drives his car up into the Hollywood Hills. Blinded by tears, he catapults his car through the guardrail. It bursts into flames in midair and crashes to the ground. Not only does he survive the plummeting fireball, but he is conscious within 12 hours and only loses the use of his legs. I have three syllables for you: Cy, Ber, Punk.
Finally, almost all good cyberpunk, being written by geeky dudes, has sex in it. Pumpkin is no exception. As Ricci has to handle such drama with a marginal capacity to do so, she displays another talent that sufficiently distracts from her acting, namely, her nipples. In all but the maudlin scenes, Ricci seems to have iced her mammary glands just prior to "Lights! Camera! Action!" It's almost as if her nipples in a sweater are the only reasons she is in the movie--or movies in general--at all! Which doesn't have a lot to do with cyberpunk, except that the presence of nipples is certainly in line with what most consumers of cyberpunk appreciate.
Strangely, Pumpkin has a good soundtrack. Bjork does a great song on it, and there are a few other songs I liked. But there's no album available. Nine whole stars for this cyberpunk masterpiece of quintessential subtlety.
©1999 by Randy Shandis Enterprises. All rights happily reserved.