Filmmaker Gary Winick hit upon an unique idea a few years ago: with the advent of digital video, he formed
InDigEnt (Independent Digital Entertainment), a production company that has allowed a number of actors the
opportunity to direct. While it may be an admirable idea, the results have been spotty, with most of the released films
(like TAPE, CHELSEA WALLS, and FINAL) coming across more as filmed theater than cinema. Sure, there
are benefits to shooting on DV, but there are drawbacks as well (the primary one being that without a competent
and knowledgeable director of photography, the films look washed out and grainy when blown up for projection).
Winick was the director of the earnest if derivative romantic drama THE TIC CODE (1999). At the 2002
Sundance Film Festival, he premiered his latest opus, the equally earnest TADPOLE, which garnered the top
prize in the dramatic category. The film was snapped up by Miramax, given a glossy sheen and released to the
general public as sort of counter programming for the summer blockbusters. To that end, it achieved its goal.
The film, however, isn't quite the masterpiece one might expect.
The story is somewhat risqué: precocious 15-year-old Oscar Grubman (played by twentysomething newcomer
Aaron Stanford) heads home for the Thanksgiving holidays intent on declaring his love for his stepmother Eve
(Sigourney Weaver), a medical researcher on the heart. The audience learns that Oscar's mother is French and
has returned to her native country and that his father (played by John Ritter) is a self-absorbed Columbia history
professor. Eve is given a lusty best friend, Diane (Bebe Neuwirth in a scene-stealing turn), a chiropractor who
ends up bedding Oscar when she encounters him drunk on a street corner and takes him back to her apartment
to sober up. Mix-ups and hilarity ensue, or at least that seems to be what writers Heather McGowan & Niels
Mueller and director Winick are aiming for. While there are some amusing moments as Oscar attempts to keep
Diane from revealing their one-night stand, the overall tone is uneven. Does TADPOLE want to be a comedy of
manners built around a sort of Oedipal thing? Or does it want to delve into something deeper?
The performers are game, with Ritter and Neuwirth handling their roles well. I may get slammed for saying
this, but Sigourney Weaver is a good decade too old for her role and she seems at a loss for how to make
something out of the underwritten role of Eve. Stanford is quite good as the wise-beyond-his-years Oscar
(whose childhood nickname was "Tadpole") and Robert Iler does a nice turn as Oscar's best pal and confidante.
The difficulty I had with the movie is that it took an intriguing premise that was ripe for all sorts of dramatic
and comic possibilities and flattened it. Granted, the filmmakers managed to skirt many of the potential pitfalls
to turn the material into melodrama, but the comedy is forced and the denouement felt false and tacked on. Like
its title, TADPOLE comes across as not fully developed.
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for sexual content, mature themes and language
Running time: 78 mins.
Viewed at United Artists Battery Park Stadium 16
|© 2005 by C. E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.