'Spork'

Endearingly sweet, though it plays off a lot of old tropes, "Spork" does boast a surefire, attention-grabbing hook.

Endearingly sweet, though it plays off a lot of old tropes, “Spork” does boast a surefire, attention-grabbing hook: A lonely adolescent hermaphrodite, whose gender uncertainty makes her the ultimate, er, low man in puberty’s pecking order. Intentionally rag-tag production is destined to find some kind of specialty theatrical home, but helmer J.B Ghuman Jr.’s coming-of-age comedy also seems naturally equipped for VOD. And while pic does deal in extremities, recent news coverage of school bullying provides a currency he likely didn’t expect.

Like a John Waters movie that Waters never got around to making, “Spork” (“neither a spoon nor a fork”) dwells in a certain brand of American domestic squalor — in this case, the pestilential trailer home shared by the bespectacled Spork (Savannah Stehlin) and her pungently unhygienic older brother, Spit (Rodney Eastman). Mom is buried out back, Dad is long gone; Spit and his g.f., Felicia (the very funny Elaine Hendrix), have achieved a kind of dead-eyed inertia.

Spork, meanwhile, mopes along in her scapegoat role, looking for love as she’s oppressed by a pack of blonde harpies led by Becky Byotch (Rachel G. Fox). Think of “Spork” as “Mean Girls” with a spritz of “Hairspray” and a penis.

Things shift into high gear, however, with the arrival of Spork’s neighbor, Tootsie Roll, a dance machine/social critic played with precocious virtuosity by young Sydney Park, whose machine-gun delivery would be perfect for, say, “His Ho Friday.” Taking no guff from the likes of Betsy, the protective Tootsie and her posse (“my bitches”) have Spork’s back.

Still, matters are pretty morbid for Spork until she gets inspired by her androgynous, generously proportioned friend, Chunk (“like ‘chink,’ but they call me Chunk”), played by Kevin Chung, who doesn’t exactly call her “grasshopper” but does provide the ersatz ancient wisdom that inspires the unlikely Spork to compete in the school’s dance-off.

Spork” certainly pokes a finger in the eye of social presumptions about sexuality, but it also plays with a perilous number of racial stereotypes — Chunk, for instance, or even Tootsie Roll, to an extent. While the white kids are almost uniformly mean to Spork — except for Charlie (Michael William Arnold), who has two dads and may be gay himself — the black kids rally to her side, to an inordinate degree. Are all white, blonde children vicious, self-centered and racist? You get that sense.

With the exception of Park, who’s hilarious, most of the young performers in “Spork” are merely adequate actors. They’re not great dancers, either, although the choreography by Denise Piane that’s used so generously throughout really seems like stuff 13-year-old girls would come up with. There’s no “High School Musical” slickness to “Spork,” but it feels a lot more genuine.

Production values are adequate.

Spork

Production

A Last Bastion Entertainment and 11:11 Entertainment presentation. (International sales: The Film Sales Co., New York.) Produced by Christopher Racster, Chad Allen, Honey Labrador, Geric Frost. Executive producers, Kevin Frost, Geric Frost. Directed, written by J.B. Ghuman Jr.

Crew

Camera (color), Bradley Stonesifer; editor, Phillip Bartell; music, Casey James and the Staypuft Kid; music supervisor, Rebekah Touma; production designer, Nathan Carden; art director Nathan Carden; set decorator, Orlando Dumond Soria; costume designer, Samantha Kuester; sound, Arran Murphy; supervising sound editor/re-recording mixer, Patrick Giraudi; visual effects, Cafe Noir; choreographer, Denise Piane; associate producer, Ferrari Watts; assistant director, Allen Scudder; casting, Jeremy Gordon. Reviewed at Tribeca Film Festival (Cinemania), April 24, 2010. Running Time: 85 MIN.

With

Savannah Stehlin, Sydney Park, Rodney Eastman, Elaine Hendrix, Oana Gregory, Rachel G. Fox, Michael William Arnold, Kevin Chung.

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