The laboriously quirky coming-of-age comedy “Spork,” From first-time writer-director J. B. Ghuman, Jr., serves as a reminder that the words ‘original’ and ‘effective’ are not necessarily interchangeable. Actually, this low-budget offering isnât even all that original, in fact, just constructed of parts to bait one into the false feeling that it is so. “Spork” is too much flash and dance, and too little substance.
The film revolves around a frizzy-haired, small town junior high outcast (Savannah Stehlin) ÷ so nicknamed because her deceased mother told her before splitting that she was a hermaphrodite ÷ and her 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).
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.
Ghuman uses the fact that Spork is intersex as a way to illustrate just how different she is, but never explores what it really means. Her white-trash older brother isnât equipped to help and the moronic adults at school may as well be the disembodied voices found in Charlie Brown TV specials. So many of the bits in “Spork” are all about the titillation and too often that fails. The spectacle of tweens in black-face is unacceptable, no matter the race of the director. So many of the comedic attempts fall flat, that Îcomedyâ hardly describes this film.
In both tone and style, “Spork” unfolds sort of like an ever so self-conscious mash-up of “Napoleon Dynamite,” “Youth in Revoltä and ãDear Lemon Lima,ä 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 schoolâs 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 goofy and grating.
While Ghuman’s musical numbers are fairly well constructed and rendered, they feel discretely walled off from the rest of the production. Heâs attempting “Glee-” inspired breaking into song-and-dance, but only manages to remind us “Glee” doesnât always pull it off. The few performers that do have some magnetism are unfortunately thrust into the background.
Basically, “Spork” is a collection of phony poses, devoid of any feeling or emotional investment. With its gawking, curly-haired protagonist, weirdo trailor-mayes, and willfully dorky fashion choices, all finally culminating in a school-sanctioned dance-off, it feels like an uninspired, gender-inverted spoof too many other LGBT film fest features.
That the core message at the yawning center of “Spork” ÷ one of tolerance ÷ is a right and just one is cold comfort, for Ghuman seems to know not how to effectively preach this gospel. There are some tender moments, but Ghuman doesnât seem to know where they fit into all the mayhem. Thereâs a disturbing lack of respect for each character, even if they appear happy before the credits role. “Spork” would have been a better film if the musical numbers had been replaced with a smattering of character development.
“Spork” was shown Sunday, June 15 at 1 p.m. at the Castro Theater.