Tadpole Movie Review

Home from boarding school for Thanksgiving holiday with unruly hormones and a festering Oedipal jones for his 40-something stepmom, idiosyncratic 15-year-old Manhattan sophisticate Oscar Grubman is having a hard time coping with life.

Versed in the classics, a voracious reader of Voltaire, fluent in French and tortured by his own high expectations, he doesn't have much use for girls his own age -- even the ones that like him. But as he waits impatiently for some elusive perfect moment to reveal his desires to Dad's wife (Sigounrey Weaver), Oscar gets a little drunk one night and goes to bed with her lusty best friend (Bebe Neuwirth) instead.

Such is the framework for "Tadpole," the enticingly tart, oddball coming-of-age comedy that won helmer Gary Winick the Director's Award at this year's Sundance Film Festival.

In a sympathetically sullen performance, newcomer Aaron Stanford perfectly personifies Oscar's weary disposition and eccentric, worldly intellect that mask -- albeit not very well -- his lack of life experience and social polish. Oscar's confidence wavers wildly, as does his imitation suave (an episode involving fake sideburns is overly broad and out of character). But he's wise enough to know, somewhere deep down inside, that his determined infatuation is foolish, and it frustrates him no end -- especially since landing in the sack with Neuwirth was so easy it could even be called accidental.

Neuwirth is a hoot as the shameless, mischievous cradle-robber, whose lack of decorum soon complicates Oscar's plans immensely. Weaver lends the attractive stepmother a tangible but subtle, affectionate awkwardness around Oscar that stems from her focus on trying to find the right balance between mom, mentor and friend. Needless to say, she's blindsided by Oscar's desire for something considerably more. John Ritter is also terrific as Oscar's warm but sometimes-distant, history prof pop, who has taken an interest in his son's love life (asking about girls at school, etc.) at exactly the wrong time.

Combining elements of "The Graduate," Voltaire's "Candide," Woody Allen, Whit Stillman's "Metropolitan," Holden Caulfield and Oedipus Rex, this film is ripe with New York atmosphere and understated, indelibly human comedic tension, amplified by its low-budget but very intimate digital video style.

Yet it's the casting of Stanford that gives "Tadpole" its soul. Because of him, Oscar's interest in women almost three times his age feels more like a rationalized inclination than a fetish or a childish preoccupation -- even though we're privy to the kid's laughably quaint romantic daydreams about flying kites and riding in horse-drawn carriages curled up with his stepmom's head on his shoulder.

Curiously, "Tadpole" is one of four movies out this year in which teenage boys copulate with much older women. I wonder what's in the air that "Lovely and Amazing," "Y Tu Mama Tambien" and the upcoming Jennifer Aniston indie project "The Good Girl" all include variations on this theme.

Just as curious is the fact that none of these films frown on these couplings with any seriousness. Imagine the uproar if a film casually depicted a sexual relationship between a 40-year-old man and a teenage girl. I wonder if this double standard stems from over-estimating the capacity for sexual self-awareness in modern young men or under-estimating that capacity in modern young women.


Comments

Tadpole Rating

" OK "

Rating: PG-13, NY/LA: Friday, July 19, 2002<br> Limited: Friday, July 26, 2002<br> Wider: Friday, August 2, 2002

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