Pumpkin

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Pumpkin

Like walking deux ex machinas, the disabled are almost always supporting players in movies, catalysts for change so transcendent in their innocence and emotional purity that they're treated more like magic scepters than human beings. Revved up on its own delirious hypocrisy, the alternately touching and misconceived Pumpkin seems poised to turn the tables, revealing how "special people" are kept at a certain distance—close enough for self-serving compassion, too far for genuine intimacy. But directors Anthony Abrams and Adam Larson Broder want to have it both ways: When they're not mocking society's condescending attitudes, they buy into them fully, forging a star-crossed romance around a retarded person's beatific smiles and "soulful" glances. A wild ride from the start, Pumpkin lumps satire and melodrama together as if they were the same thing, making it hard to tell whether it's sincere or tongue-in-cheek, or whether Abrams and Broder are playing a colossal joke on the audience. In an upper-class conformist paradise that introduces Douglas Sirk to Todd Solondz on Sorority Row, Christina Ricci stars as the model Alpha Omega Pi sister, blessed with a fine pedigree, a cheery attitude, and a handsome boyfriend (Sam Ball). To beat their Tri-Omega rivals for Sorority Of The Year honors, the sisters do charity work for "The Challenged Games," where they half-heartedly coach disabled athletes for competition. Reluctantly assigned to the frail and sweet-natured Hank Harris, Ricci reads volumes into his childlike affection and inadvertently falls in love with him, naïve about the heavy social consequences. As her perfect world begins to unravel, she breaks out of her Pasadena shell and experiences conflicted feelings for the first time, intensified by the shocked disapproval of her family and friends. Outside of a sharp running gag about recruiting "ethnic" pledges—one a "cute Filipino" and another who "looks just like Whitney Houston"—the jabs at sorority life are intrinsically lazy, the run-off from a thousand other campus comedies. But Abrams and Broder are more teasingly ambiguous with Ricci, whose all-consuming passion for Harris sometimes appears genuine, and sometimes seems like a mere extension of her massive self-absorption. Fearlessly ratcheting up the soap-opera theatrics, Pumpkin charges into sensitive territory with admirable élan and more than a little recklessness, leading to laughs that may be unintentional and disarming moments that may be part of the joke. As if mirroring that awkward introduction between the Alpha Omegas and the fleet of short buses, the film doesn't seem to know how it feels, much less how others are supposed to feel about it.