Directed By: J.B. Ghuman Jr.
Starring: Savannah Stehlin, Sydney Park, Rachel G. Fox, Michael William Arnold, Oana Gregory, Kevin Chung, Keith David, Rodney Eastman
Sure, there’s no harm in getting a laugh out of the classic tasteless poop and penis jokes once in a while, but ultimately, they’re thoughtless cheap shots. Spork on the other hand, is quite the opposite, a film that earns its giggles through very calculated efforts including a unique story, equally innovative and appropriate production techniques and, most importantly, a main character who’s incredibly odd, yet wildly endearing all at the same time. If Napoleon Dynamite‘s Napoleon and Deb lived happily ever after and had a kid, that kid might be Spork.
Savannah Stehlin is Spork, a 14-year-old hermaphrodite. Spork, hermaphrodite, get it? She rocks a massive mess of frizzy hair, oversized black glasses and shares a trailer with her big brother, Spit (Rodney Eastman), and their dead, stuffed dog.
In true teenage fashion, all of the kids at school love to get a laugh out of Spork’s unusual condition and behavior, especially Betsy Byotch (Rachel G. Fox). Spork may not have any friends, but she can turn to fellow outcasts Chunk and Charlie (Kevin Chung and Michael William Arnold). There’s also Spork’s next door neighbor, Tootsie Roll (Sydney Park), a force to be reckoned with on the dance floor. When Spork decides to enter the school dance off so she can claim the prize money to pay for a procedure guaranteed to make her as pretty as her late mother, she turns to Tootsie Roll and her “hoes” to teach her a thing or two so she can take down Betsy and her “bitches” on the stage.
Clearly Spork isn’t your average teen comedy and that’ll either sit well with you or it won’t, but if it does, it does big time and you’ll be as enraptured by Spork as Spork herself is by The Wiz. As the title suggests, the film is about a specific girl, so character development is key and writer-director J.B. Ghuman Jr. nails it from the very start. We first meet Spork on her home turf and the location itself reveals an incredible amount of information about our main player. She wakes up sporting a pair of old school 3D glasses, can’t run her hairbrush through her knotty hair, plays her VHS of The Wiz over and over and loses her books through a hole in the bottom of her backpack.
After getting a taste of life as Spork, Ghuman shifts the action to school where Spork treks through the halls with spitballs in her hair and takes a chocolate cupcake to the face in the cafeteria. In less than ten minutes, you know exactly who this girl is – or so you think. While a great deal of Spork’s actions are quite predictable thanks to her all-around uniformly odd behavior, she does go on an incredible journey by the end of this film, her change largely facilitated by the colorful characters around her.
Every character in this film, including Spork, is an extreme caricature, Spork your average loser, Betsy the nasty queen bee and Tootsie Roll, the dancer with swagger who doesn’t take Betsy’s crap. While each and every one of them can easily fall into the trap of being too cliché, Ghuman spices them up just enough to keep them fresh and interesting, but not too much so as to lose the desired tone of the film, which relies on a degree of satire and deadpan humor.
However, Ghuman doesn’t use his characters as a crutch, or the story itself for that matter, to achieve that sensation. Everything from the camerawork to the music to the digital effects works to enhance the performances, so as not to dump the quirkiness on the audience in one shot, rather to apply it evenly making it that much more digestible. The editing is also a major asset in solidifying the tone of the film. Much of the comedy comes from properly timed cuts rather than an actor’s desperate attempt to nail a joke. Editor Phillip J. Bartell’s handle on the material also comes in handy when it comes to integrating music video-like moments, a handful of which are simply fun to watch because Park and her crew are such talented dancers.
Overall, these kids are a blast to watch and the story a ton of fun to experience. While the material does have some flaws, namely a few tracking and clarity issues when it comes to the character Loosie Goosie’s change of heart and Spork’s relationship with her big brother’s pals, none of it really matters as each scene individually is still so well constructed and effective. Similar to Napoleon Dynamite, Spork is here to earn a laugh through absurdity and if that’s the type of humor that works for you, Spork is certainly a film not to be missed.
By Perri Nemiroff