Thursday, May 26, 2011

J.B. Ghuman, Jr.'s SPORK, starring an oddly fetching Savannah Stehlin, opens

What's a SPORK? Some combination of fork, dork and pork? Maybe. In this case, it's the name of both the film in question and its lead character, played -- with an unusual combination of charm, wit, sleaze and "otherness" by the young actress Savannah Stehlin. Ms Stehlin, along with another young actress named Sydney Park, are the two main reasons to see the movie, which is stylized (but not in a particu-larly consistent manner), sweet (when it's not sour or some-thing in between), and is being billed as both a comedy (there are occasional laughs) and a musical (maybe two-and-a-half sort-of production numbers are scattered throughout the film).

Think of Spork as a kind of GLBT version of Mean Girls, (without the big budget), and you'll have some idea of what's up. The past career of the film's husky, bedroom-eyed writer/director, J.B. Ghuman, Jr. (shown at right, with another sort of Huskie), has been spent mostly as an actor in GLBT films, and in this, his first full-length feature as filmmaker, he does wobble a bit in both tone and tale. What supposedly makes Spork (the character, below) so unusual is that s/he is a hermaphrodite. But so little is made of this in the script (other than name-calling and the like), that one wonders if this condition exists physically or is merely in the mind of its quirky protagonist.

Now, TrustMovies is not asking for the high drama found in the (at this point in time) Bible of hermaphrodite movies, the excellent Argentine XXY. (Nor for the utterly bizarre handling of this theme that our favorite B movie-maker Larry Cohen brought to his apocalyptic serial killer tale, God Told Me To.) Spork is a supposedly light musical comedy, after all, which is fine. Not much appears to be at stake in the film, except the usual cliché of the protagonist's self-image. (Yes, this is a major thing, I grant you, but one that is hardly going to be discovered within a few days and by the winning of a dance contest -- which is the be-all-and-end-all here. Well, it's just a movie,  and one that's about, as the film's marketing team cleverly puts it, "standing out and fitting in."

So, in our heroine's quest to find the real "her," what we get instead of content, plot, style or smart dialog is the typical default-setting these days: attitude. And, boy, does Spork --  the character and the film -- deliver this in spades. As does the supporting cast, which provides the movie's off-and-on fun quotient. The aforementioned Ms Park (above, center) is delightfully sassy as Spork's next-door, trailer-park neighbor. And several other actresses (below) do well in the standard bitchy, mean-girl roles.

There are some laughs, some sentimentality (Spork's mean older brother suddenly turns sweet, and her dead mom puts in an appearance) and some break (and other types of) dancing. Along the way, Ghuman and his crew manage a few simple but effective special effects -- a face turns into a skeleton, M&Ms lose their color. But with the first musical number taking place more than half an hour into the movie, and the second almost one hour in, you can hardly call this a musical.

In fact, it may strike you as just another sentimental feel-good tale posing as something different -- were it not for Stehlin and Park, and the occasional funny or charming bit. Such as the ending moment (below), with two characters sitting on swings, when -- but you'll see, if you choose to visit. And, despite my misgivings, there may be enough reasons to make the trip. Just tamp down any high expectations.

Spork, (90 minutes and un-rated -- if it were, it would probably boast an "R") is currently playing in Los Angeles at Laemmle's Sunset 5. It opened last week in Philadelphia at the Roxy Theater but already seems to have disappeared from that venue. This Friday, May 27, it opens here in New York City at the Quad Cinema.

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