"Tadpole" plays like a witty, well-told short story, sly and delightful. It unfolds neatly over Thanksgiving vacation for a precocious 15-year-old, Oscar Grubman (Aaron Stanford), home from prep school to the handsome Manhattan apartment of his father, Stanley (John Ritter), a classics scholar who's kindly but a tad self-absorbed, and his stunning second wife, Eve (Sigourney Weaver), a cardiology researcher. The Grubmans and their friends are a most urbane group with terrific taste in everything from decor to wine, and they are articulate, civil and humorous.
Oscar, whose mother is French and has returned to live in her native country, is not your typical teenager. His command of his mother's language is sure, and he is a huge admirer of Voltaire, whom he surely read in the original. Most important, girls his age hold no interest for him, and although virginal, he sets his sites on older women. None is more alluring to him, alas, than his own stepmother, who is as warm and thoughtful as she is lovely. Ironically, because of the demands of her work and her lack of domestic skills, she thinks she's not such a good stepmother, but of course she's a young male's dream of a stepparent. Poor Oscar is churning with feelings and desires he can't express to Eve, when circumstances throw him together with Eve's best friend, Diane (Bebe Neuwirth), a beautiful chiropractor. Diane is a worldly and confident woman who displays an amused, mischievous streak in regard to Oscar.
Director Gary Winick, who did a good job with "The Tic Code," which brought attention to Tourette's syndrome without being preachy, has brought a deft touch to Heather McGowan and Niels Mueller's sparkling script. In his first starring role, Stanford, who appeared in Woody Allen's "Hollywood Ending" and is actually 23, holds his own in the company of Weaver, Ritter and Neuwirth, who play with relish.
"Tadpole" is a sophisticated, funny and good-natured treat, slight but a pleasure. It is also a movie with a serious problem. Many movies shot digitally are very good-looking, and the process allows for a flexibility and modest budgeting ideal for intimate, sophisticated fare that might not otherwise make it to the big screen.
All well and good, but the uneven look of "Tadpole" is a detriment to its enjoyment, even to those willing to overlook technical deficiencies for the sake of fine material and performances. Sequences distractingly alternate between those in which the color is natural and clear and those that are glary and orange/sepia-toned with instances of obvious halation around the actors. Exterior daylight scenes are especially poor, not to mention unflattering. "Tadpole" and its cast warranted better.
MPAA rating: PG-13, for sexual content, mature thematic elements. Times guidelines: sophisticated adult themes and situations.
Aaron Stanford ... Oscar Grubman
Sigourney Weaver ... Eve Grubman
John Ritter ... Stanley Grubman
Bebe Neuwirth ... Diane
A Miramax Films and IFC Productions presentation of an InDiGent production in association with Dolly Hall Productions. Director Gary Winick. Producers Hall, Alex Alexanian and Winick. Executive producers Jonathan Sehring, Caroline Kaplan and John Sloss. Screenplay Heather McGowan and Niels Mueller. Cinematographer Hubert Taczanowski. Editor Susan Littenberg. Music Renaud Pion. Costumes Suzanne Schwarzer. Production designer Anthony Gasparro. Art director Sara Parks. Running time: 1 hour, 27 minutes.
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