Tadpole (USA; 78min.)

directed by: Gary Winick
starring: Sigourney Weaver; Aaron Stanford; John Ritter; Bebe Neuwirth
Bob says: "I wasnít expecting much from TADPOLE, so I guess I wasnít disappointed in the film, but I really have to say I disliked it. It all seemed painfully typical, and slapping a veneer of wealthy, academic Upper East Side-iness onto it made no difference to me.

"I didnít see the character of Oscar (Tadpole) as brilliant or passionate. Precocious would be a more accurate word. I felt as if the whole Voltaire thing was just a part of Tadpoleís affectation Ė he wanted to be seen as a peer to people 25 years older than he was, so he decided to spout all the wisdom he could muster. This little phase probably lasted a month or two. And ditching the book toward the end would then indicate that heís ready to drop the poseur attitude (and probably pick up a new one Ė bring on the David Bowie). Thatís fine. Typical, but fine. But if thatís the case, why is the film interspersed with quotes from Voltaire, as if heís introducing the theme of a given sequence? Are we to see these quotes as relevant? Are we to take Tadpoleís point of view? Do we? Or is it all irony?

"OK. Bebe Neuwirth was great. She was fun, and for lack of a better term, she was sassy as hell. But I thought her performance overshadowed all the others to the effect of making everyone else seem utterly flat.

"I didnít think the film dealt with any real issues. Itís not at all earth shattering for an adolescent to develop a crush on someone older Ė it may be so to the kid at the time, but I donít think weíre really given any insight into his feelings here. The viewer is very much an outside party, so I canít say I felt anything for what Oscar was going through. This was certainly not as interesting, as engaging, as funny, or as provocative as something like SPANKING THE MONKEY.
Clinton says: "There certainly was a lot of buzz at Sundance on this feature, helped of course by the newsmaking 4 million dollar purchase by Miramax, but this comedy left me terribly dry and even a little ticked off. Oscar Grubman is a super-smart 15 year old prep school boy falls in love with an older woman and attempts to woo her in somewhat naive but charmingly inventive ways. Sound familiar?

"Sound like RUSHMORE? Well, yeah, this film is just like RUSHMORE, but with two major differences: 1) the older woman is our hero's step-mom, 2) the film has none of the pinache and charm of Wes Anderson's far superior film. Once again, digital film makes the director lazy, and this screwball comedy is staged with little style or vision. While there are a few very funny scenes, mostly involving Bebe Neuwirth who is so full-of-life that she nearly steals the film, in whole the character development is tedious and heavy handed.

"Oscar is half-French, his dad is a Columbia professor, and he can quote Voltaire, but all these attempt to make him surprisingly intelligent come off as nothing more than pretentious and spoiled - sort of an inverse of THE GRADUATE. In truth, this is a more realistic characterization than RUSHMORE's of a precocious child prodigy, but the mere superiority of this little know-it-all made me want to jump up and punch the screen. More surprisingly is how John Ritter manages to upstage Sigourney Weaver, who barely seems to realize she's in a film. In all, TADPOLE left a bad taste, like a paté that everyone says is delicious, but that you can barely choke down "
Laura says: "Stanford does an OK job as the fifteen year old sophisticate and Ritter trots out a performance of decent befuddlement we've seen before. It's the sexy older women who torment Oscar and the advisors he confides in that make TADPOLE such frothy fun. Bebe Neuwirth is a blast as the sexually confident chiropractor who takes Oscar's non-interest in her obvious charms and turns them around, making him squirm like a bug under glass. Neuwirth draws Oscar into a cafe tea party klatch and preens with pride while her friends play with her new toy. Weaver is touching as the supportive stepmom who knows something's missing from her life but is oblivious to her stepson's all consuming crush until he lays his heart at her feet. Robert Iler gives a notable performance as the 'regular guy' friend of the rarified Oscar. His comic response to Oscar's pronouncements show a mastery of tone and timing. Also good is Peter Appel (THE TIC CODE) as Jimmy, the doorman who continues to call Oscar by his childish nickname Tadpole.

"While the writers resolve Oscar's emotional state a little too easily, the conflict itself is beautifully handled, especially in Weaver's able hands. And those hands (and hearts) are a persistent theme. When Eve's alone with Oscar, her hands are covered. A cardiologist, she removes surgical gloves when he visits her abandoned lab before discoursing on her subject. 'I can hold your heart in my hand' she tells him. Later, when Oscar makes his feelings clear, Eve's immediate response is to don rubber gloves and distractedly wash dishes. Only during a tennis match with him, after Oscar's affair with Diane has been uncovered, are Eve's hands bare, but she takes the opportunity to bean him with a ball, 'taking the gloves off' as it were. Oscar leaves the mature sense of feeling behind at film's end to adopt the more adolescent, male biological response to pheromes ('She smells good.')

"TADPOLE is nothing like RUSHMORE, to which it is often inexplicably compared. It's more like a reversed THE GRADUATE done by a less talented Wasp Woody Allen. TADPOLE'S last Voltaire quote? 'If we don't find something pleasant, at least we will find something new.' TADPOLE doesn't offer too much that's new, but it certainly is pleasant." 3 1/2 cats
For Laura's complete review: "http://www.reelingreviews.com/tadpole.htm"
Michael says: "Cute is the word that comes to mind after seeing TADPOLE. I found it quite charming. I was prepared for a real mixed bag after reading the reviews, but I quite liked it.

"Best thing about the film was definitely the performances. As everyone has said, Bebe Neuwirth is outstanding as 40ish Diane, best friend of Eve who sleeps with Eve's stepson Oscar (Tadpole). Sigourney Weaver turns in a finely nuanced performance as Eve, who is the object of her stepson's love. John Ritter is great as the academic father who doesn't notice when his wife needs his attention. And newcomer Aaron Stanford tackles a difficult role and acquits himself extremely well as Oscar Grubman, a brilliant 15-year-old who is hopelessly in love with his stepmother.

"The story is fairly straightforward as a coming-of-age tale, with some nice touches, such as a serious look at the older woman/younger man dynamic. There's a nice bit about silence, and listening to the differences in silence that plays out well, and is used well by filmmaker Gary Winick as well. (The dishwashing scene, which I found very effective and thankfully lacking in dialogue.)

"As for the look of the film, I was prepared for the worst. I'd heard that the film, shot of digital video, didn't look very good, despite Miramax going back and spending an additional $5,000,000 to clean it up. Well, compared to yesterday's FULL FRONTAL, that money was very well spent. Except for a few scenes, I found the visuals to ge quite acceptable." 4 cats
Nathaniel T. says: "FOR YOUR CONSIDERATION: Bebe Neuwirth for BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS in the film Tadpole. What a wonderful performance, comedic and heavy and steals the show completely. Alright, there ya go, I encourage everyone to see this excellent film, and enjoy Bebe and John Ritter in their great supporting roles."
Robin says: "This is one of the little, independent films that gets raves from the Sundance Film festival (helmer Gary Winick won the Dramatic Director Award at the 2001 fest), but when you see it you have mixed feelings. The most glaring problem with TADPOLE is the poor quality of the technical aspects of the film. Shot on digital video, the movie often times seems like it was made using old tapes found in a box in the basement. Couple the poor quality of the video medium with shaky, annoying, hand-held camera work (by Hubert Taczanowski) and an audio track that sometimes sounded like someone was muttering in the audience, TADPOLE can be painful to watch, which is a shame.

"The tech problems (which are supposed to be much cleaner after Miramax paid about $5 million for the film, though you wouldn't guess it to watch) are tempered, somewhat, by a decent script and some good, even very good, performances. Bebe Neuwirth, as the sexy, confident and single career woman, gives a comfortable and assured performance. There is a wry wit to Diane as she declares, to Eve, that Oscar is her lover or when she hosts a tea with her other single girlfriends and gives her OK for the others to get into the boff Oscar contest.

"Sigourney Weaver provides dignified elegance as Eve, a woman whose marriage may not be as it appears. She realizes a sound performance as the object of Oscar obsession, but puts an intelligent spin as she lets us know that her life is far from perfect. Aaron Stanford (the actor is reportedly 25 but looks the part of a 15-year old), as the title character, is earnest as the over-confident adolescent who thinks he knows exactly what he wants in life, but really doesn't. Stanford brings his character full circle with its bookend start and finish aboard a train. Robert Iler gives dimension to his role as Oscar's best friend Charlie, helping to flesh out the tiny cast. John Ritter, as Stanley Grubman, Eve's husband and Oscar's dad, does a fine job as the preoccupied academic whose eyes to life are eventually opened by his son.

"The screenplay, by Heather McGowan and Niels Mueller, deserves more professional techs, but it is fortunate that the cast is more than up to generating the upbeat feelings that the nice coming age film should have. The story is bridged with philosophical bon mots like, 'Every man is guilty for all the good he didn't do,' done in white titles on a black screen and point out he humor of Oscar's very serious nature. It is not an 'and they all lived happily after' story, but in the end things are very positive, upbeat and pretty normal all around. The shoddy techs hurt and will keep people away, but if you can live with the bad craft work I think you'll enjoy TADPOLE, especially the terrific perf by Neuwirth." 2 cats