|REVIEWS - MOVIES|
The struggle for teenage identity has an extra stumbling-block for our hero/heroine in this LFF premiere...
"Almost like a cross between a Gregg Araki and John Waters film with its oddball characters and neon glow, despite its weaknesses Ghuman Jr's debut is imaginatively realised"
J B Ghuman Jr's first feature as writer and director inventively tells the colourful story of 14-year-old hermaphrodite, Spork.
Living in a trailer, sporting dishevelled hair too much of a challenge for any brush, old skool 80s' 3D glasses and a collapsing school bag, Spork creates a tragic picture. Add to this her well-known unusual physical make-up and it's no wonder she's ostracised at school. As the chosen target for daily bus journey pea-shooting spats and the recipient of kind remarks like “I think I can see her ding dong” and “he boy/she boy”, Spork's only friend lives in the trailer next door. Her father left and her mother is long dead and buried by the trailer, leaving her insensitive older brother, Spit, to teach her the birds and the bees: “Are you pregnant Spork... did you get someone pregnant?”
When her booty-shaking best friend, Tootsie Roll, injures her leg, Spork decides to try and win the $236 prize for the Cherry Lane Middle School dance-off. Cue an awful lot of dragged-out, somewhat tiresome dance montages and sequences, starting in the “Booty Ballroom” with a bunch of under-aged face-painted kids and continuing in the school hall and corridors.
Spork's over-the-top pantomime dame acting style jars at times as those around our hero resemble caricatures of stereotypes. The orange-faced, fake-tanned chihuahua girls with perms, back-combed hair and side pony tails who bully Spork are particularly irritating but perhaps that's the point? Unfortunately Tootsie Roll is almost as annoying as Spork's enemies - thinking she’s a gangster’s bitch, Tootsie's mannerisms are over-exaggerated and she speaks her own language (“I gotta bounce.”), again fulfilling black stereotypes: “None of us have real friends in the hood.” New friends Spork meets along the way are more endearing – the fat Asian “Chink Chunk” and Charlie, the “Amazing Fagatron”, whose dads are gay and offers to teach Spork Justin Timberlake dances.
Despite some dubious decision-making, at times Ghuman Jr is spot on and writes some witty lines and amusing scenes. Fast taunts and double entendres help make Spork's script shimmer - the “Sisterhood Of The Bitches” mock Charlie (“You couldn’t get it up if your daddies asked you to”) and Tootsie unthinkingly tells Spork it's “about time you grow a pair of balls”.
Charlie breaking out into a Judy Garland Wizard of Oz song is just as entertaining as Spork learning how to break-dance with the aid of Tootsie Roll and a twister board and the faux pregnant rendition of Britney's Baby One More Time. Spork hitting Betsy Bitch in the face with a basketball is an 80s' power moment to counteract more serious thought-provoking scenes like the anatomy class. Spork taking her dead stuffed dog for walks on a lead and a scene involving a TV advert asking “are you alone, ugly and ethnic?” is just the kind of surreal humour you can expect from Ghuman Jr.
Almost like a cross between a Gregg Araki and John Waters film with its oddball characters and neon glow, despite its weaknesses Ghuman Jr's debut is imaginatively realised. He uses thought bubbles and crayon drawings of clouds and the sun accompanied by Nintendo beep effects and a soundtrack akin to early platform computer games to ground Spork in its 80s' setting. A series of childlike nicknames (“Dramarama”, “Loosey Goosey”...) help to give Spork that feeling of innocence that appropriately frames the protagonist's journey to “[figure] out how to be [herself]”.
Spotlighted alone in “Booty Ballroom”, by the end of this quirky, rather daring coming-of-age flick, no longer an outsider, Spork has satisfyingly realised people “change, grow-up and get stronger” and managed to find her own sense of belonging and place in the world. Whether you love or hate Spork, its themes can be universally recognised.
Director/Writer: J B Ghuman Jr
Running Time: 86 mins
Starring: Savannah Stehlin, Sydney Park, Michael Arnold, Rachel Fox, Oana Gregory
Spork is showing as part of the London Film Festival at various venues across London on Saturday 23, Monday 25 and Tuesday 26 October.
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