US Release Date: 08-02-2002
Directed by: Gary Winick
- Sigourney Weaver, as
- Eve Grubman
- Kate Mara, as
- Miranda Spear
- John Ritter, as
- Stanley Grubman
- Bebe Neuwirth, as
- Diane Lodder
- Aaron Stanford, as
- Oscar Grubman
- Peter Appel, as
- Robert Iler as
Bebe Neuwirth and Aaron Stanford in Tadpole.
Tadpole is a funny, quirky coming of age comedy set on Manhattan's Upper East Side. Oscar, the son of a Columbia professor (John Ritter) is sophisticated and cultured (albeit very pretentious) far beyond his fifteen years. He reads Voltaire and speaks a fluent French. He finds girls his own age to be too inexperienced in life to be attractive. He loves older women. In fact Oscar is in love with his stepmother (Sigourney Weaver). He also has a one-night fling with her best friend (a scene stealing Bebe Neuwirth).
Aaron Stanford, although in his early twenties, passes credibly as a high school sophomore. This relative newcomer is so good that for his performance as Oscar he deserves one.
Tadpole has a grainy and low-budget look but this doesn't keep it from being one of the freshest and tightly paced comedies to come along in quite a while. When Oscar's father asks him if he was hanging out last night in the village with all the hippies, Oscar replies there aren't any hippies in the village anymore, only bankers. When his father and stepmother discover his affair with their forty-year-old friend his father says it sounds very 'The Graduate' to which his stepmother retorts, "Yes, except that Oscar hasn't graduated yet." In another scene Oscar plays tennis with his stepmother. When he announces that the score is 15-40 she says "That's a ratio you seem particularly fond of."
Not only does this movie have a finely written script, on top of that the performances, most notably in the facial expressions of the cast as they react to the situations around them, are dead-on hilarious. The delicate plot is balanced with pathos and never allowed full exploitation. In the end Oscar learns a valuable life lesson while providing many laughs along the way. Anyone interested in an intelligent and witty alternative to big budget summer spectacles need look no farther.
Bebe Neuwirth in Tadpole.
Patrick, your enthusiastic endorsement certainly had me expecting more from it than this film delivered. I wonder if you rewatched it, if you would still give it 4 stars. It's mildly amusing at best and filmed on a low-grade digital camera that gives it an amateurish feel despite the presence of several well-known actors.
The plot is a teenage boy's fantasy with the addition of an Oedipus complex . Oscar is a literary nerd, which in this fantasy, somehow makes him attractive to absolutely every woman he meets. He quotes Voltaire and middle-aged women and teenage girls go damp between the thighs. I've never seen so many lustful female glances at one male outside of a James Bond film. Even his best friend's mother seems to be undressing him with her eyes. It's basically the plot of a porn film without the sex scenes.
Of course the elephant in the room is that no one blinks an eye when a 40 year old woman sleeps with a 15 year old boy. This is part of the double standard that comes with this variation of genders, and if a 40 year old man had slept with his 15 year old daughter, I doubt John Ritter's character would have taken the news with such aplomb. If the filmmakers get away with this plot point at all, it's because Aaron Stanford doesn't really look 15. He looks like the movie version of 15, but if you put a real 15 year old next to him, you'd realize that he looks like a college student and not a high-schooler. He's even able to buy drinks in a bar without a problem.
Clearly Oscar has mother issues, something his academic father fails to notice. His mother is never shown and as she lives in another country, is clearly absent from most of his life. This seems like the most obvious rationale for his obsession with older women, including Eve, his step-mother, whose less than glamorous appearance clearly makes the attraction more psychological than physical. Somehow, the story would have you believe that by kissing her, his issues are cleared up, but I see time spent on a psychiatrist's couch in his future.
The film runs barely over an hour and has the feel of a short story. It takes place entirely over one Thanksgiving break. There's not a lot of substance to it and would require padding to stretch it any further.
To be fair, there are some mildly amusing scenes and the cast is talented. I've always been a fan of Bebe Neuwirth and Aaron Stanford does an okay, but hardly Oscar worthy, job in the lead. Apart from a small part as Pyro in the X-Men film series, his career hasn't really taken off yet. John Ritter and Sigourney Weaver are fine, but almost anyone could have played their rather generic parts.
Even if Patrick hadn't so heartily endorsed this film, I would have been disappointed with it. Watching it after reading his four star review simply added to my reaction.
Sigourney Weaver, Aaron Stanford and John Ritter in Tadpole
Writer Heather McGowan is a woman who enjoys the fantasy of being the experienced woman who "educates" boys. She describes her novel, "Duchess of Nothing" as, "The story of a woman living in Rome with her boyfriend, Edmund, and his seven-year-old half-brother. During Edmund's absences the narrator educates the boy in life, love, sunglasses, and marriage." I get that she is into underage boys but she wrote Tadpole as if most women are.
Her fantasy is in fact a sex crime. As I watched Tadpole, I kept imagining Oscar as a 15 year old girl. Think of the scene where Diane introduces Oscar to her three middle aged friends and they all drool over him at lunch. How vulgar would it have seemed if that were four middle-aged men flirting with a fifteen year old girl? The men would be considered old perverts.
What really bugs me about Oscar's age is that this story could have worked just as well if he had been in college instead of high school. There are plenty of college age virgins, and Voltaire is far more fitting of a college study subject than one for a high school sophomore. The fact that McGowan chose to make Oscar 15 serves her fantasy but not the story.
This film's sexual preference reminded me of The History Boys (2006), in which homosexual author Alan Bennett wrote a story about school aged boys who love an old homosexual teacher who likes to fondle them. Like Bennett, McGowan projected her sexual fetish into her script. There is nothing in fact wrong with that, except both authors use their scripts to justify their sex crimes and make them seem acceptable. Both scripts end with the underage boys in question better off because of their sexual education at the hands of a much older person.
These are not the only films to make arguments for legalizing statutory rape. See Doubt (2008) or Birth (2006) for other reprehensible justifications for child molestation. Many people will argue that because some 15 year old boys would relish a sexual experience with an older person, that it causes no harm. That would be a horrendously sexist thought. If that is a legitimate excuse then adult men can use the same one when having sex with a 15 year old girl. "What? She wanted it." has never impressed a judge.
I know I got slightly away from the movie at hand, but the age difference of Oscar and the adult women in the film is the sole piece of interest generated by this film.
Photos © Copyright Miramax (2002)