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Tadpole (15)



Review by: Jack Foley | Rating: Two

DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: None listed

THE young male infatuation with sexy, older women has provided the inspiration for countless movies (from The Graduate to American Pie), yet few have delivered the goods with such aplomb as Tadpole.

Described as a romantic vision of New York City at the start of the holiday season, Gary Winick’s movie is a knowing, smart and hopelessly enjoyable coming-of-age drama that, owing to its independent roots, refrains from tiresome message-making, crass sexual exploitation or drifting into shameless sentimentality.

It is wittily performed by an excellent ensemble cast, does not outstay its welcome, and contains a nice line in humour that puts many similar movies to shame.

Little wonder, then, that it emerged as an audience favourite at the prestigious Sundance Film Festival, where the jury acknowledged Winick with a best director award, and subsequently became snapped up by the Goliath that is Miramax Films.

The film itself finds Aaron Stanford’s sensitive 15-year-old, Oscar Grubman, returning from boarding school with one thing in mind - wooing and winning his sexy mother-in-law, played by Sigourney Weaver.

Despite being adored by several girls of his age, Oscar is infatuated with older women, considering himself to be something of a renaissance man - fluent in French, conversant in the classics (and Voltaire, in particular), and able to tell all he needs to know about the opposite sex from one look at their hands.

However, his plan goes awry when he unwittingly beds the beautiful 40-something friend of the family (vampishly played by Bebe Neuwirth) and finds himself becoming the object of desire for several sophisticated women, while trying to prevent his ‘infidelity’ from getting out.

With so many sexual shenanigans taking place, it would have been easy for Tadpole to drift into another routine coming-of-age drama, in which the women are manipulatively exploited for the gratification of the male audience, and the emphasis is on embarrassing, gross-out bedroom moments.

Yet Winick, thankfully, avoids falling into such cliches, opting to find his humour elsewhere - hence, a dinner party between Oscar, his father and the two women he desires, in which he attempts to stop the truth from emerging while putting his plan into play, forms one of many comic highlights.

The fact that the movie was shot digitally, in just 14 days, lends it a more authentic feel, as though we could quite easily be intruding on an ordinary life, while the pithy script contains plenty of knowing references and a nice line in self-depreciative humour.

Credit must also go to Stanford (who has since appeared as Pyro in X-Men 2) for keeping his character likeable and not too ‘arty’, while Weaver and Neuwirth clearly have fun playing up to their stereotypes; with the latter, in particular, providing an incendiary presence that disappears all too quickly once the dinner party is over (my one, minor, quibble).

Praise must also be given for the way in which the movie resolves itself, with a happiness, of sorts, found by its protagonist, that doesn’t betray the reality of the situation.

One can only hope that its strong word of mouth from the Sundance Festival (always a good indicator of the year’s best independent movies) will help it to become similarly embraced by UK audiences. It is a romantic journey worth taking.

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