Sunday, May 02, 2010

Tribeca ’10: Spork

Sure junior high school years are usually challenging, but it is hard to think of a disadvantage this kid is not burdened with. Parentless, the socially awkward Spork lives in a trailer park with her white trash brother, while enduring taunts about her intersexual birth condition. Yes, poor Spork was a hermaphrodite and the kids at school are not about to let her forget it in J.B. Ghuman’s Spork, which won the Virtual Best Feature Film Award at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival.

Spork does not get a lot of joy out of life. She is tormented by a popular clique of rich girls led by the frighteningly plastic-faced Betsy Byotch. Her only friend is Tootsie Roll, the African American girl who lives in the trailer next door. However, an upcoming dance competition might be the opportunity Spork needs to assert herself.

While Spork follows in the tradition of many square peg high school stories, it has a sharper edge than most. The first thing that really stands out in the film is the young cast. These kids really do look like kids, which makes their frequently cutting and at times explicit dialogue quite effective (and sometimes disturbing). Given her age, Savannah Stehlin particularly deserves credit for her brave performance as Spork, finding the dignity within the bullied pre-teen.

Ghuman nicely fleshes out the story with some clever details, like Spork’s obsession with the movie musical, The Wiz. Perhaps the strongest scenes in the film though, involve her relationship with her guardian brother. However, one would think she would have more social standing from her friendship with Tootsie Roll. After all, any white junior high school kid regularly patronizing the “Booty Ballroom” ought to have some kind of street cred with her classmates.

Spork definitely has heart and an old school hip hop soundtrack that will be nostalgic for many viewers. While the climatic big dance-off might provide a familiar plot structure, there is a good deal of fresh material to be found along the way, truly earning the film’s sentimental payoff. Endearing in its own eccentric manner, Spork screens again today (5/2) as the Tribeca Film Festival concludes.