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'Tadpole' is an eye-opener

Friday, August 09, 2002

By Barbara Vancheri Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Tadpole is the nickname the doorman at his New York apartment building has given Oscar Grubman (Aaron Stanford), a precocious 15-year-old who has come home from boarding school for Thanksgiving weekend.


Rating: PG-13 for sexual content, mature thematic elements and language.

Starring: Sigourney Weaver, Aaron Stanford, Bebe Neuwirth

Director: Gary Winick

WEB SITE: www.miramax.com


Previous coverage

Sweet script lures Weaver to 'Tadpole'

Bebe Neuwirth got along swimmingly in 'Tadpole'

Local movie showtimes


Oscar quotes Voltaire, shuns girls his own age and has his eye -- and heart -- on an older woman, someone he's known "for a while," as he tells his best friend (Robert Iler). Turns out that woman is his stepmother, Eve (Sigourney Weaver), and being in her presence makes Oscar look like a lovesick puppy. His academic father (John Ritter), a well-meaning sort, is too distracted to even notice what's going on. Oscar's biological mother lives in France, which partially explains his fluency in the language and maybe his European sensibilities.

"Tadpole," a movie that earned Gary Winick the best director award at the Sundance Film Festival, follows Oscar and a handful of relatives or friends on a particularly eye-opening weekend. Before Oscar can declare his feelings for Eve, he gets drunk and ends up in the apartment and bed of his stepmother's best friend, Diane (Bebe Neuwirth).

Oscar tries to right this wrong -- or at least conceal it from his parents -- and figure out what to do about Eve. Along the way, we get meditations or questions about aging (Oscar keeps asking what it's like to be 40 years old), love, listening and being passionate about life.

There are two ways to view "Tadpole": As a moral dilemma and as a movie. Since I'm paid to review movies and not to write an ethics column about a 40-year-old woman sleeping with a 15-year-old boy, I'll choose door No. 2.

As a comedy, "Tadpole" has much to recommend, especially its endearing young star and the experienced pros who surround him. As written by Heather McGowan and Niels Mueller, Oscar is all exposed nerves, unchecked emotions and youthful enthusiasm, while Neuwirth is clearly having fun and Weaver brings to Eve an air of dignity and wistfulness at the turn her life has taken.

It could have been the preview print I saw or, more likely, the digital video technique but "Tadpole" had a fuzzy, underexposed (or poorly illuminated) look. In one interview, Winick blamed his director of photography, who didn't seem able or willing to override the small cameras to correct the focus, exposure and other built-in settings.

That's one big strike against a small, surprisingly sweet movie -- two veiled exchanges between Oscar and Eve about the heart are lovely -- which comes in at an abbreviated 77 minutes. That's a length usually reserved for children's movies. Winick proved, however, what you can do with a two weeks, $150,000, a neophyte and three veterans of stage, screen or television.

Barbara Vancheri can be reached at bvancheri@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1632.

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