Pumpkin

Movie review by
Tracy Moore, Common Sense Media
Pumpkin Movie Poster Image
Black comedy about disability full of profanity, sex.
  • R
  • 2002
  • 113 minutes

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Pumpkin offers positive messages about recognizing prejudice in ourselves and what it truly means to accept differences. It also warns against the dangers of conformity and status-seeking.

Positive Role Models & Representations

The film's satirical nature often presents characters as deeply conflicted, shallow, or self-serving. Some characters stand out as pure or true in comparison, but it's often in such broad strokes that it's difficult to see them as anything but types used for illuminating the flaws of others.

Violence

The film contains a scene of a wildly exaggerated car explosion, which leads to the paralysis of the driver. In another scene, a teenager wrecks a car but is not injured. In another scene, a college-age man fights a teenage boy, delivering six or eight punches before being hoisted up and thrown to the ground. Blood is shown briefly with one fighter's bloody nose.

 

Sex

In one brief scene, a man is show in montage form having intercourse with three women who are on top of him; each is topless and shown briefly from the side. In another scene, a college-age woman is shown in bed with a teenage boy, the covers pulled up to their necks, as if to suggest they had intercourse (the woman is called a "slut," a "whore," a "prostitute," and a "pedophile" by his mother). Sensuality occurs elsewhere in the movie, with a teenage boy looking at a bikini-clad centerfold. A man and a woman kiss in bed, half-dressed. Girls dance suggestively in hula skirts and bikini tops. A guy hugs a girl and slides his hand to cover her behind. 

Language

The film contains pervasive use of profanity and politically incorrect, racist, and prejudiced language, in addition to scenes in which gender-based critiques are commonplace, such bigger women being called "mastodons." Characters are referred to by their ethnicities, such as when sorority sisters discuss getting a Filipina to join the sorority purely for the sake of appearing diverse. Characters' ethnicities, sexual orientations, or abilities are used to imply their ranks in a social hierarchy, such as when a guy says he's heard of guys "losing their chicks to black guys or lesbians, but to a retard?" Disabled individuals are discussed more basely, such as when an intellectually disabled character is said to "become aroused more easily." Profanity such as "Jesus Christ," "f--king ridiculous," "bitch," "whore," "slut," and others are used frequently.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

An adult woman referred to as an alcoholic is shown in a few scenes drinking cocktails during the day. In one scene she's shown slurring her words angrily after drinking.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Pumpkin is a black comedy that aims to satirize collegiate Greek life by showing its characters as hopelessly conformist, shallow, self-serving, and oblivious to the suffering or setbacks of others. The premise involves a sorority girl falling in love with a teenage boy with physical and intellectual disabilities. Though the movie aims to subvert stereotypes, it does so through profanity (including "f--k"), sexuality (including topless women having sex), crassness, and a grab bag of political incorrectness that insults ethnicity, ability, sexual orientation, and gender. Best for mature teens who can separate the underlying messages from the caricatures in which they are presented.

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What's the story?

Sorority sister Carolyn McDuffy (Christina Ricci) and her snobby sisters want to win Sister of the Year at Alpha Omega Pi. To do so, they take on the task of mentoring a group of disabled teenage athletes for the big Challenged Games (a fictional version of the Special Olympics). At first, Carolyn is disgusted by the idea, but she soon finds herself risking everything she's worked hard to achieve, including her reputation, when she finds herself falling in love with her charge, Pumpkin (Hank Harris). Will she risk everything to make a point about what it really means to accept someone?

Is it any good?

PUMPKIN has its heart in the right place. It's a dark comedy about falling in love that aims to show that not only can love be found in the unlikeliest of places but also that seeking perfection is a fool's errand. But it's also a hornet's nest of political incorrectness, with jokes about "retards," ethnic slurs, gender-based taunts, and a lack of subtlety that renders it more cautionary tale than uplifting romance.

There are some good ideas here, about finding love in unexpected places, challenging our misconceptions, what acceptance really means, and how we think and talk about and regard people who are different in any way -- whether because of skin color, abilities, weight, or appearance. The problem is, it's presented with all the subtlety of a bullhorn, aiming more for shock value than thoughtful unpacking. Some of the performances are admirable, but, overall, there are too many stretches of the imagination to give this a stamp of high-mindedness, not least of which is presenting someone who's differently abled as being capable of simply and suddenly reversing near paralysis because of a pretty face.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Does the film portray developmental disability accurately? How, or how does it not? Why do you think the filmmakers chose to present disability in this way? 

  • Does the relationship between Carolyn and Pumpkin seem likely, that a boy in a wheelchair could be inspired by a pretty girl to get out of a wheelchair and start walking and playing sports?

  • Does the film's attempt at satirizing the more conformity-minded among us work? Why, or why not? Does the film inadvertently reinforce the very messages it aims to undo? Why, or why not?

Movie details

Themes & Topics

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