Much like the film’s protagonist, Spork is a movie with a serious identity crisis. A veritable mashup of Napoleon Dynamite and Strictly Ballroom, director J.B. Ghuman, Jr. riffs on style but forgets to add the substance in this story a frizzy haired hermaphrodite who comes of age on the dance floor. It’s not quite a musical, a dance film or a hipster treasure trove, but instead a watered down version of all three at once.
Spork (Savannah Stehlin), so nicknamed because she isn’t quite a spoon or a fork (get it?), lives in a trailer park with her older brother. Her father left long ago and her mother is buried in the yard. Her best pal, Tootsie Roll (Sydney Park), lives in the trailer next door. Tootsie’s got a big mouth and the dance moves to back it up, but she rolls with a crowd of fly girls, which leaves Spork on her own once they get to school.
Betsy Byotch (Rachel G. Fox ), pronounced bee-otch, a blonde haired little snoot who worships Britney Spears, runs a clique of white girls whose arch enemies are Tootsie’s group of black girls. The racism and sexism that is manifested into childish taunting is accurate, if intentionally over the top in this film. When Byotch calls Tootsie “colored” it sounds as natural as if she had chosen a tamer, more common epithet, but she wears her racism on her sleeve. Byotch hates black people…and hermaphrodites…for some reason.
Much of the film’s visual flair seems to come from a fantasia of the 1980s; of the bits from that era we look upon nostalgically as “cool”. Paper 3D glasses? Very cool. Splatter pants? Way hip. Over-moussed bangs? You betcha! Part of the problem is that the film doesn’t necessarily take place in the 1980s as there are modern references peppered throughout. I’m all for anachronisms, but this creative choice is a lot to swallow without any kind of emotional justification. I asked myself the whole time “How does this move our story forward?” Without an answer, the only explanation I could come up with is that J.B. Ghuman has a deep nostalgia for the 1980s and is banking that the rest of us do too.
I would prescribe a healthy dose of Dennis Potter to Mr. Ghuman. The British television writer became a master of using what he called “cheap” music in series like “The Singing Detective” and “Pennies from Heaven”. Thematically, Spork seems like it might share more with these pieces than the over- stylized works this film has been culled from. Potter always found a way to bring recognizable tunes into the story in a manner that (I hate to harp on this) moved the story forward. Instead, we are just mired in the perceived “coolness” of this music as we wait for the next scene to pick up.
I could imagine reading the script for Spork and seeing its merit. The main character has an interesting back story and the simplicity of junior high level conflicts (winning a dance-off really is the most important thing in the world) certainly make for a nice canvas. Unfortunately, the waters have been muddied by overly glitzy white noise.