Perky, blonde sorority girl Carolyn McDuffy learns the hard way that life isn't always picture perfect when, to the chagrin of her friends and family, she falls for a handicapped boy named Pumpkin.
Chirpy, blonde Carolyn McDuffy (Christina Ricci) has the perfect life. A Southern California State University senior from a wealthy family, Carolyn's a devoted sister of Alpha Omega Pi and has the school's gorgeous, top-ranked tennis star for a boyfriend. School's just started, and her sorority's goal is to defeat archrivals the Tri-Omegas as Sorority of the Year. To that end, Carolyn and her sisters hope to win over the Greek Council by showing their diversity and put on their best politically correct faces, welcoming ''the best'' minority rushees and helping a charity for mentally handicapped male athletes. But Carolyn more than balks when it comes time to coach the athletes for the Challenged Games--she's scared stiff by her wheelchair-bound, redheaded charge, Pumpkin Romanoff (Hank Harris), whose puzzled stare, crippled body and fumbling throws of the discus send her almost into a panic. It isn't long, though, before she gets to know the gentle and simplistically honest Pumpkin, whose kind nature touches her heart and opens her eyes to a beauty that comes from inside. Before long, she's introducing Pumpkin to her friends, taking him on trips to the beach, even setting him up on a date with her overweight, highly insulted friend. When she realizes that what she feels for him, to her own shock and the horror of everyone she knows, is more love than friendship, all hell breaks loose. Boyfriend Kent is devastated, she's excommunicated from her sorority, Pumpkin's overprotective mother wants to see her dead, and she escapes...to Long Beach.
Ricci is so good in darkly comedic performances that it's no wonder she went from merely producing this movie to taking the starring role. She's right on with her tongue-in-cheek portrayal of a bubble-headed sorority chick who sees life through rose-colored glasses until her life falls to pieces, and she delivers some great lines to boot. The problem with this movie isn't her acting, it's the unevenness of the script that has her--and everyone else--doing things that don't quite ring true (like, how could she drive off and forget Pumpkin was sitting helpless on the beach, leaving him for hours?), but Ricci's able to compensate for that somewhat. Unfortunately, the nature of Harris' character keeps him from saying much, and other than by some great facial expressions, we really don't get a good sense of who he is or what captivates Carolyn so. Carolyn's fellow sorority sisters (Dominique Swain, Marisa Coughlan) are a hoot, and Sam Ball as Kent is quite a find. Brenda Blethyn also appears as Pumpkin's overprotective mom.
This movie doesn't quite know what it wants to be. Black comedy with a message? Probably, but it's so uneven you don't quite know what the message is. It seems like first-time directors Adam Larson Broder and Tony Abrams (who also co-wrote) were trying to give their film too many layers, when it would've been best to stick to stereotypes while still being funny. Carolyn's sorority is already diverse--that they thought it would be impressive to get more minority rushees doesn't make as much sense as it would have had they all been blonde like their competition. The handicapped athletes don't look handicapped, but rather like actors pretending to be handicapped. Film starts out mildly funny until midway through when there's a roughly 35-minute chunk of completely unfunny material, and then a bizarre tone shift takes place that makes it seem almost as though the writers changed their minds about who these people are halfway throught the script. Pumpkin's mom, who seemed fine for the first half, is suddenly a heavy drinker who wants Pumpkin all to herself. (If she's so controlling, why isn't she concerned that Carolyn is not only hours late bringing him home from the beach, but then just leaves him sitting in the driveway without making sure he gets inside?) Kent, who starts out more compassionate and understanding than Carolyn, abruptly turns into a jerk who gets taught an incongrously horrible lesson that seems undeserved given his nice-guy ways throughout most of the film. And there's the matter of why they have Christina Ricci looking like a refugee from the sorority in Animal House, while everyone else in the movie looks up to date. Overall, it's just a weird flick.
Pumpkin may be trying to deliver a goodhearted message in a blackly comic way, but it misses the mark on a number of levels, despite some clever lines and good performances all around.