Rated PG-13 - Running Time: 1:18 - Released 8/2/02

Reeking of low production values, Gary Winick's Tadpole is a strangely engaging entry into the quality paradox category; its style and tone and subject matter all embody something refreshingly different from the regular glossy product that flows out of Hollywood, but its execution is crude and surprisingly amateurish. Like a final project from a student film class, it has a raw and unsophisticated look, and the acting is sometimes quite stilted, even from experienced cast members like Sigourney Weaver, John Ritter, and Bebe Neuwirth. But that might be a good thing. While the multitude of bottom-line-focused standard releases flood the marketplace, dulling our senses with their deafening sameness, this movie thumbs its nose at the industry, defying the conventional wisdom of fiscal concerns and putting itself out there.

Somehow reminiscent of The Catcher In The Rye, this story, penned by Heather McGowan, Niels Mueller, and director Winick, concerns events that take place during a young man's Thanksgiving vacation home from prep school. Like Holden Caulfield, 15-year-old Oscar Grubman (played by 25-year-old Aaron Stanford) is intelligent, idealistic, and yet wise beyond his years, and it makes his life almost unbearable. While his best friend (Robert Iler) talks about hooking up with the school hottie (Kate Mara), Oscar quotes Voltaire and obsesses about the beauty of an older woman's hands. The hands he's particularly interested in belong to a 40-year-old cardiobiologist named Eve (Weaver), which wouldn't be so bad if she weren't married to his father (Ritter). Still, Oscar believes his stuffy, history professor dad is insensitive to Eve's needs and decides that, regardless of the obvious obstacles, he's going to win her love during his visit home, hoping to impress her with his charming manner, his knowledge of philosophy, and his ability to speak French. This plan is slightly derailed when he has an unexpected sexual encounter with Eve's fun-loving best friend, the also-40-year-old Diane (Neuwirth).

Although this picture is enjoyable simply because of its freshly experimental nature, it is filmed like a home movie (reportedly on digital video instead of film); the camera searches around as if trying to find its subject, and occasionally makes you wish it had occurred to Winick to invest in a $35 tripod. The acting is sometimes electric and other times remarkably stiff, as if the actors liked the material but didn't have adequate time to rehearse. Stanford, who is given an "introducing" credit, seems to be the most prepared—obviously he's not going to be careless with such an important, career-launching part—but the veterans, especially Weaver and Ritter, often give the impression that they didn't feel the need to try for flawless, or even terribly good, performances. Neuwirth appears at least to be having fun—but hey, she gets to make out with a man 20 years her junior—who wouldn't enjoy such a sweet gig? ***½

Copyright 2002 by John R. McEwen and The Republican

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