In times of seclusion and quarantine, the most comforting thing can be a familiar face. Christina Ricci is a face that has been part of my life since the beginning, one of the earliest films I remember seeing was 1990’s Mermaids, Ricci’s debut role. I grew up with her and I believe she’s one of the actresses that defines the 90’s, along with Winona Ryder and Parker Posey.
Wednesday Addams herself, she’s spent her career searching out roles in films that are never safe bets. She’s worked with industry legends like Ang Lee, John Waters, and the Wachowski sisters and made her impact with her wide-eyed allure. She’s fronted fashion campaigns for Marc Jacobs and Louis Vuitton, has been photographed by the greats for the covers of too many magazines to name.
She’s an acting icon whose most recent IMDb entries aren’t exactly ones I have any interest in watching, so I decided to revisit a few films from her past. Ricci has a truly diverse filmography, and it’s no surprise that for the most part she delivers knock out great performance after knock out great performance. For Laura Dern fans, there was great success in recent years with the #Dernaissance movement, so consider this my attempt at starting the Ricci Revival.
In Christina Ricci we trust.
director. Anthony Abrams, Adam Larson Broder
writer. Adam Larson Broder
Pumpkin is an undoubtedly offensive film. Able bodied actors portray disabled folk, r-words flying from every direction; this is the sort of satire and humour so of its time that it simply couldn’t function in today’s climate. From the films of John Waters and Todd Solondz, to the likes of But I’m A Cheerleader and Drop Dead Gorgeous, these dark comedies that grapple with the confronting themes and topics offer a bizarre empathy and insight via the use of an abrasive front. They’re often misunderstood as mean spirited, but that’s when taken at face value or by those who haven’t experienced the realities of these characters.
Pumpkin is a reverse Stepford Wives experience – the perfect sorority sister Carolyn (Ricci) finds all the ugliness of the world corrupting her formerly privileged and pristine life. The corruption comes from something she can’t help, a pure love that falls out of the particular lines of her particular life.
The film is nothing short of bonkers, with its surreal dance between 50’s suburbia and y2k campus life, and the tonal shift between a ridiculous sort of comedy Ryan Murphy so desperately attempts but never quite achieves, and the desolating drama of a girls entire world falling apart (complete with a suicide attempt!).
Christina Ricci plays Carolyn’s fall from grace with a sincerity that inspires sympathy despite her awful beginnings. It’s certainly a story focused on character development, with Carolyn’s struggles with shame and acceptance showing that she’s a character literally feeling pain for the first time in her life.
There’s also the story of Pumpkin (Hank Harris) himself, imprisoned in boyhood by his mother. With a lack of life, he’s belittled and dismissed. Carolyn’s suffering offers him a broken mirror to the pain he knows all too well. They see each other in a way no one else does. Their relationship isn’t one of mockery, it’s tender and true. Their turmoil is a reaction to the world’s lack of understanding towards them.
Though one could dismiss this entire film as being all too ridiculous thanks to its stylistic approach to its comedy and themes, that would be a disservice to the uncomfortable honesty it speaks. The guise a lot of people use charity for, in service of self-image as opposed to an act of selflessness, further shows the cruelty people still to this day have toward those with disabilities.
Pumpkin is quite scathing at times, leaving you flushed with discomfort in the way only a good dark comedy can. You can’t escape that its problematic in nature, but there is a story to find that explores unnecessary societal and familial conventions and the boundaries placed upon ourselves regarding the connections we make. It’s funny how a simple act of loving someone can inflict such a war against ones self, and inspire prejudice from others. Pumpkin stands as a film that delivers a fuck you to the status quo of what a perfect romance should be, especially in the context of 2002.
Black Snake Moan (2006)
director. Craig Brewer
writer. Craig Brewer
Sleazy and sweaty, at face value Black Snake Moan is a sexploitation-inspired Southern tale of a nymphomaniac, Rae, imprisoned in the home of a hard man, Lazarus, bitter from a fresh divorce. Sure, the grind-house inspired promo material suggests a sordid tale to be told, something Christina Ricci herself criticised, but that’s not what this film is in the slightest. This is about a friendship and the healing it brings. Beneath the humidity and dirtied flesh is a sweet story of two people struggling but finding a way to cope with the help of each other.
Christina Ricci completely embodies Rae, in a thrill of a performance that is as relentless and unrestrained as it is tender and tragic. With PTSD flashbacks courtesy of the sexual abuse encountered throughout her life, she lashes out in an explicitly physical way. Trauma manifests in a lot of ways, and for her, this is how she handles it.
Samuel L. Jackson delivers a poignant performance that sees him as vulnerable as he’s ever been. Lazarus is a heartbroken man, who’s been left on his own, betrayed by his ex and his brother after their affair. He’s got the blues. and he sings them real well. The fact Samuel L. Jackson got no awards season recognition for this performance is disgusting. Fuck the Academy!
S. Epatha Merkerson perfectly compliments Jackon’s Lazarus as Angela, a local pharmacist that forms a relationship with. This is a mature romance that’ll inspire a whole lot of hope. There’s a brief appearance from Real Housewives legend Kim Richards as Rae’s mother. There’s also an unfortunate and embarrassing supporting performance from Justin Timberlake, who speaks like the kid who wants to pet the dog. This performance reminds us all that we should be relieved he only temporarily pursued an acting career.
As sweet as the film can be, it’s also really just a fucking cool film. It looks incredible and is every part the world it’s set, leaving you feeling that hot summer heat. The soundtrack is on an entirely different level, elevating the Black Snake Moan experience even higher than just that of the outstanding lead performances.
If you’ve looked at the poster and dismissed this as being an exploitive and rapist fantasy, I can’t blame you. But I implore you to explore past that as it’s not of the sort and you’ll find a richly loving film about finding family in friendship.
Sleepy Hollow (1999)
director. Tim Burton
writer. Andrew Kevin Walker
Tim Burton, despite his recent big budgeted piles of uninspired shit, was formerly a top tier director and world builder. 1988’s Beetlejuice (yes, I’m ignoring Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure) began a brilliant golden mile that ran through the 90’s and included the undeniable classics Edward Scissorhands and Batman Returns, as well as the absolute gems Mars Attacks! and Ed Wood. Sleepy Hollow was the end of the era, before things started getting a little questionable (although, it must be acknowledge 2003’s Big Fish is factually and undeniably his best film).
The haunting telling of the Headless Horseman in Sleepy Hollow sees small town inhabitants embroiled in some very bloody drama. As the story unravels, the audience gets to follow along a fun little mystery involving witchery and lots of decapitation. Heads really do roll.
The soft-spoken Katrina Van Tassel (Christina Ricci) really isn’t given much more to do than bat her wide eyes and act a little grumpy every so often. It’s a stark reminder of just how little the roles of women often were in these big budget vehicles for the overhyped and overpaid lead actors of yesteryear. It’s also frustrating when you consider that the female characters in this film are actually the ones with the stories to be told, and Ichabod Crane (Johnny Depp, said overhyped and overpaid actor) is just the one connecting them together.
Miranda Richardson has a fun romp of a performance as the villainess, Lady Mary Van Tassel, casually offering the films best line: “you’re just in time to have your head cut off.” Lisa Marie is as beautiful as ever in her brief but bewitching appearance as Lady Crane in a few flashback scenes.
Tim Burton is obviously having fun with Sleepy Hollow, and this film manages to inch above mediocrity because of that joy. Some good goth viewing.