First published on Spike Magazine (July 5th 2011) //
Colourful comfort blanket for social misfits or tacky cult-by-numbers debut? Declan Tan reviews J.B. Ghuman’s debut
Getting her nickname from that ingenious eating utensil that blends the undeniable benefits of both a fork and a spoon (for she, you see, is an intersex teenager), the titular character of this high school comedy/musical turns out herself to be a mere tool; for failing jokes; insipid, soulless ‘morality’; and plastic ‘life lessons’, with the film itself being a heartless portmanteau of Napoleon Dynamite (2004) and Mean Girls (2004).
When not tediously trying to earn that tiresome description of ‘quirky’, J.B. Ghuman Jr.’s film, his first feature, is trying its damnedest to make some form of strained social comment. However, his messages, both backward and hypocritical, seem so uninformed and poorly thought through that they fail on all counts to be funny, perceptive or to say anything.
The plot is a basic one (though there’s nothing wrong with that); Spork (Savannah Stehlin) is an outcast, as the other children know about her bits. She is bullied and left out, particularly targeted by a gang of bitchy glitter girls, who also happen to be obsessed by Britney Spears. Cue the trite commentary on pop star/celebrity obsession, where the ostentation of light-heartedness is buried by clumsy allegory.
It turns out Spork lives next to a schoolmate, a certain Tootsie Roll (Sydney Park), who, though not friendly at first, initiates her into the cult of booty-poppin’ before a big, cheesy dance off finale. Then cue the backtracking on all of that earlier ragged commentary on pop princess worship, to celebrate a whole other kind of obsession, more acceptable it appears, though no less mainstream, dangerous or mind numbing.
Spork, with its slapdash admixture of high-school hijinks and sophomoric sermonising, comes across as an insincere and even exploitative pseudo-parable of modern teen life as, after a few cheap early jokes, the whole ‘intersex’ thing is forgotten and left unexplored, adding to the superficiality of the break-dancing, friendship-finding, journey of no-discovery reels, which Spork and her new buddies are subjected to. And you’re left reminded that Paul Feig’s Freaks and Geeks (1999) handled it a lot more sensitively, with feeling, in the same context, and all in a single 45-minute episode. Even so, Ghuman’s film is a missed opportunity, one too desperate for the easy praise that comes to something offbeat, albeit artificially so and, most definitely, a bore.