Director: J.B. Ghuman, Jr.
Starring: Savannah Stehlin, Sydney Park, Rachel Fox, Michael Arnold, Sydney Park, Beth Grant, Oana Gregory, Chad Allen, Yeardley Smith
The laboriously quirky low-fi coming-of-age comedy ‘Spork’, from writer-director J. B. Ghuman, Jr., serves as a reminder that the words “original” and “good” are not necessarily interchangeable. Heck, this low-budget offering isn’t even all that original, in fact, just constructed of parts to bait one into the false feeling that it is so.
‘Spork’ centers around a frizzy-haired, small town junior high outcast (Savannah Stehlin) — so nicknamed because her absentee mother told her before splitting that she was a hermaphrodite — and her bangle-bracleted attempts to fit in, despite the bullying and antagonism of a mean-girls cabal inclusive of sneering, bouffant-haired tweens with names like Betsy Byotch (Rachel Fox) and Loosie Goosie (Oana Gregory). With the assistance of her trailer park neighbor, Tootsie Roll (the charismatic Sydney Park), and new, pint-sized pal Charlie (William Arnold), who has two gay dads, Spork decides to tackle a school dance contest, both for the cash prize and side benefits in self-esteem.
In both tone and style, ‘Spork’ unfolds sort of like an ever so self-conscious mash-up of ‘Napoleon Dynamite’, ‘Youth in Revolt’ and ‘Dear Lemon Lima’, another precious and colorful festival circuit staple from a couple years back that had the benefit of much more engaging characterizations (as well as Beth Grant in a nearly identical role, as the school’s principal). In this regard, Ghuman manages to do something rather remarkable — take a uniquely canted personal story of self-actualization and uplift, studded with some nice production design, and make it boring and grating.
While Ghuman’s musical numbers are fairly well constructed and rendered, they feel discretely walled off from the rest of the production. (For a much more seamless integration of song-and-dance, check out the lovely, recent, no-budget ‘Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench’.) And the few performers that do have some magnetism are unfortunately thrust into the background. Basically, ‘Spork’ is a collection of phony indie movie poses, devoid of any feeling or emotional investment. With its gawking, curly-haired protagonist, weirdo uncles/older brothers, and willfully dorky fashion choices, all finally culminating in a school-sanctioned dance-off, it feels like an uninspired, gender-inverted spoof of ‘Napoleon Dynamite’, minus only slyly subversive jokes, tater tots and an alpaca.
That the core message at the yawning center of ‘Spork’ — one of tolerance, don’t you know — is a right and just one is cold comfort, for Ghuman seems to know not how to effectively preach this gospel. Different, after all, is the movie that breaks the fourth wall by having a ‘supporting’ character, rather than its protagonist, deliver a single moment of direct address to the audience. Again, though, that doesn’t ‘Spork’ good, or engaging.
Written by: Brent Simon