Spork: Film Review

Quirky tale of a teen hermaphrodite defines niche appeal.

This relentlessly quirky tale of a teen-age hermaphrodite displays some creativity on the part of debuting writer/director J.B. Ghuman, Jr. but not enough.

NEW YORK — Imagine if John Waters directed a special episode of Gleeand you have some idea of awaits a viewer in Spork. This relentlessly quirky tale of a teen-age hermaphrodite — hence the title’s symbolism of a utensil that’s neither spoon nor fork — displays some creativity on the part of debuting writer/director J.B. Ghuman Jr. But it’s not enough to carry the day.

The titular character, endearingly played by Savannah Stehlin, is a frizzy-haired, bespectacled adolescent who, thanks to her unique physicality, has not surprisingly become an object of ridicule among her fellow junior high students. Unfortunately, the film divides the antagonists along racial lines. Her particular tormenters are a gang of blonde cheerleader types led by -- and this is a prime example of the film’s lack of subtlety -- Becky Byotch (Rachel G. Fox).

Meanwhile, Spork’s main allies are the black kids, particularly sassy, fast-talking Tootsie Roll (Sydney Park), and the Asian-American Chunk (Kevin Chung), who dispenses bite-sized nuggets of wisdom.

The storyline ultimately hinges on — surprise, surprise — a school dance competition, with Spork coached by the black girls in a series of frenzied routines set to ‘90s era hip-hop numbers.

Borrowings from indie favorite Napoleon Dynamite are particularly blatant, starting with the trailer-park setting where Spork lives with her white-trash older brother (Rodney Eastman), complete with mother’s grave in the backyard, and the cartoon sun and clouds that periodically dot the sky.

Granted, the film has an undeniable sweetness, alternately using humor and pathos to convey the anguish many adolescents experience, from the torment of bullies to the humiliations of gym class. Further, gay teens may appreciate the references to The Wizard of Oz, or more accurately, its all-black remake The Wiz, as well as Spork’s sympathetic classmate having two dads. And Simpsonsfans will appreciate the brief but very funny appearance by Yeardley Smith (the voice of Lisa) as a highly unorthodox sex-education teacher.

But Ghuman doesn’t have the skills to make the various elements coalesce, instead letting simplistic trappings dominate. Ultimately, the film proves as unwieldy as its titular metaphor.

Opens: May 27 (Underhill Entertainment)
Production companies: Last Bastion Entertainment, Archer Productions, 11:11 Entertainment
Cast: Savannah Stehlin, Sydney Park, Rachel Fox, Michael Arnold, Oana Gregory
Director/screenwriter: J.B. Ghuman, Jr.
Producers: Chad Allen, Honey Labrador, Chris Racster
Executive producers: Kevin Frost, Geric Frost
Director of photography: Bradley Stonesifer
Production designer: Nathan Carden
Music: Casey James and the Stay Puft Kid
Costume designer: Samantha Kuester
Editor: Phillip Bartel
No rating, 90 minutes