A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
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.
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?
- In theaters: June 28, 2002
- On DVD or streaming: November 5, 2002
- Cast: Christina Ricci, Dominique Swain, Hank Harris
- Director: Anthony Abram
- Studio: MGM/UA
- Genre: Comedy
- Topics: Friendship, Misfits and Underdogs
- Run time: 113 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- MPAA explanation: Rated R for language and a scene of sexuality.
- Last updated: March 13, 2020
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