tadpole (2002)


director: gary winick

sigourney weaver, bebe neuwirth, aaron stanford

Probably the most pleasant surprise in Gary Winick's Tadpole is John Ritter's amusing performance as the father of a precocious fifteen-year old boy who's discovered that he's suddenly irresistible to older women, like his stepmother's best friend. Winick's film is a little gem - though more a topaz than a diamond, really - with wit and a lightness of touch that obscures a subject that demands serious second thoughts.

Oscar Grubman (Aaron Stanford) is a mix of Holden Caulfield and Dustin Hoffman's Benjamin Braddock, so much the latter that Ritter's reaction, upon learning of Oscar's affair with Diane (Bebe Neuwirth), his wife's best friend, is a stunned double-take that quickly turns to amusement, and a half-chuckled observation that "It's all very The Graduate." Oscar, his dad, Diane, and Oscar's stepmom Eve (Sigourney Weaver) are all sitting in a very nice Manhattan restaurant when his affair with Diane becomes public knowledge, and they all take it like adults, or at least the kind of adults who order their meals in French.

Oscar is bright, too bright, in his own mind, for girls his own age, and his night with Neuwirth is an unintended side effect of his infatuation with Eve. Women like Eve and Diane, on the high ground between wild, post-60s youth and dreaded menopause, can't help but find Oscar intriguing - young, healthy, intense and curious. "He listens," one of Neuwirth's friends whispers when Oscar barges in on their lunch, and she obliges by practically pimping him to all assembled.

Oscar's infatuation with his stepmom is inappropriate - that's obvious enough to everyone, including his best friend Charlie (Robert Iler of "The Sopranos"), who catches his own mom giving Oscar a second look. Winick seems to pleased with the idea of Oscar as a kind of high-toned, gender-reversed jailbait that the film takes on a rushed tone, giddy with the sense of its own self-percieved sophistication, disinclined to ask whether the interest Diane, her friends and, yes, even Eve have in Oscar is at all appropriate. Tadpole is a film with an interesting problem - its protagonist doesn't feel like the author of his own story. The film, like the world that Oscar inhabits, has had its tone set by the self-satisfied moral torpor of his parents' generation, and in spite of the screenplay's quality and Winick's sure hand, it would have been nice if it had been told with more of Oscar's perspective.