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TADPOLE (director/writer: Gary Winick; screenwriters: Heather McGowan/Niels Mueller; cinematographer: Hubert Taczanowski; editor: Susan Littenberg; music: Renaud Pion; cast: Sigourney Weaver (Eve Grubman), Aaron Stanford (Oscar Grubman), John Ritter (Stanley Grubman), Bebe Neuwirth (Diane), Robert Iler (Charlie), Adam LeFevre (Phil), Peter Appel (Jimmy), Alicia Van Couvering (Daphne Tisch), Kate Mara (Miranda Spear); Runtime: 78; Miramax; 2002)
“Strictly a lightweight escapist film.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Gary Winick co-wrote and directed this formulaic, safe, sophisticated comedy sitcom which is set in an anti-septic upper-class academic NYC environment, where the director outdoes even Woody Allen in cleaning up the location shots of the city. The Upper West Side and Central Park locations look pristine, as if never touched by human hands.

It’s a snappy coming-of-age film about a smart, precocious, preppie 15-year-old, Oscar Grubman (Aaron Stanford), who is smitten with his forty something biologist stepmother, Eve (Sigourney Weaver). His father Stan (Ritter) is a history professor at Columbia who is wealthy, well-mannered, witty, and intellectual. The kid quotes from Voltaire, speaks a fluent French, and judges females by their hands. These things along with his love for his stepmom, make him not like others his age. His real mom is French and lives in Paris.

This pleasant little film that cost only $150,000 to make (sponsored by Bravo and the director’s digital outfit-InDigEnt) was shot in 14 days, as the cast received $249 a day and the crew $100. But they all own a piece of the action and should make some profit as Miramax bought the rights to the film to be released on July 19th. It wowed the audience at Sundance and at the Manchester Film Festival it received a warm reception. It was shot on digital video (using at times three Sony PD-150s–it was edited in PAL on a Macintosh G4 powered Final Cut Pro system) and transferred to 35mm film.

The film revolves around Oscar, a teen who acts like he’s 40. He’s on the train home to his Manhattan residence for the Thanksgiving holiday and he’s seriously talking about being in love with some mysterious female with his best friend from Chauncey Academy, Charlie. His attractive boarding school classmate Miranda Spears shows an interest in him, but she get no response. Oscar has made up his mind to seduce his stepmother over the holiday and the film regularly pops up witty sayings during the scene breaks that are quotes from Voltaire, which have inspired our hero to act out his impulse.

After the Thanksgiving dinner attended by his father’s colleagues and mother’s best friend he’s requested by his father to walk his colleague’s attractive daughter, Daphne, home, but he leaves her as soon as he could and ends up getting drunk in a bar. On his way home from his adventure with a worldly bar woman patron, he bumps into his mother’s lifetime friend, Diane (Bebe Neuwirth), a chiropractor with a passion for men and life. She takes him back to her apartment to sober him up and give him a massage. Oscar is taken with her only because she’s wearing his mother’s scarf, and the older woman allows him to seduce her.

The film’s pivotal scene is in a fancy French restaurant, where mom and dad have invited Diane along. She promises to say nothing to his folks about last night’s liaison, but naughtily says if she drinks too much of the wino she’s in the habit of talking. The acting is really fine and overcomes this stale situational comedy bit, as the truth comes out in the open and the stunned parents try to take their son’s affair in stride. Later on Eve will take it in stride that Oscar wants to make love to her and gently handles the situation.

The film makes no point about anything. It proves that its purpose is only to make a good looking film that can exact as much comedy as it can and it does this by trying to keep it all in good taste. This one is strictly a lightweight escapist film. It should suit the right audience just fine. The title of the film comes from when as a child Oscar was called Tadpole, but now the only one who does is the doorman (Appel) in his swanky building. Newcomer Aaron Stanford, who was recommended for his first movie part by a talent agency, shows that he’s capable of carrying a film. Though this film doesn’t have the bite of “Rushmore,” the character that Aaron plays is most like Jason Schwartzman’s. Bebe Neuwirth adds some risky comedy. Otherwise, Tadpole can be viewed as an ad for DV filmmaking and the cheap way one can now make films through this innovative technology.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”