Love Among the Smarties

Minor romance yields major charms.

TADPOLE

directed by Gary Winick

with Sigourney Weaver, Bebe Neuwirth, and Aaron Stanford

opens July 26 at Uptown

Riding down the Hudson on Thanksgiving break from prep school, 15-year-old Oscar (a.k.a. "Tadpole," played by Aaron Stanford) has one objective in mind: to seduce his fortysomething stepmother Eve (Sigourney Weaver). Fluent in French, fond of literary quotations, his head stuck in Candide, the prematurely curmudgeonly yet basically likable Oscar craves a mature woman who'll appreciate the old soul trapped in his teenager's body. On his arrival home in N.Y.C., Eve asks: "You have high expectations, don't you, Oscar?" She has no idea.

As with any good sex comedy, however, the seduction scheme quickly unravels. Oscar instead finds himself seduced by Eve's pal Diane (Bebe Neuwirth) during the course of a very sexually complicated long weekend. While Columbia profs and kin swirl around them in his family's comfortable Upper East Side apartment, Oscar and Diane flirt in (subtitled) French. A few drinks later comes the Mrs. Robinson scene, which Neuwirth plays as expertly as Anne Bancroft. Diane later tells Oscar, "You're a grown-up," then pauses to light a cigarette. "Or close enough." The former Lilith has never been so hot or funny with her droll, fuck-it-all lasciviousness.

Yet, as in Y Tu Mam᠔ambi鮼/I>, what sounds like a smarmy "Dude, an older woman!"-type sexcapade masks more serious concerns. Still angling for Eve, Oscar's slowly dawning scruples force him to realize how making such a move could ruin his family and hurt his father (a warm yet vulnerable John Ritter). For all its familiar N.Y.C. conventions (slamming taxi doors, rambling sidewalk conversations, steaming manholes, wisecracking doormen, etc.), Tadpole is all about innocence tested in the real adult world. In other words: WWCD? (What would Candide do?)

Director Gary Winick (The Tic Code) punctuates Oscar's moral and personal progress with regular title-card aphorisms from Voltaire, but he doesn't let pretension get in the way of simple slapsticky comedy. Oscar tries on some unreliably adhesive fake sideburns to impress Eve, then has to fend off Diane's drunken kisses when she crashes a family dinner at a posh restaurant. Apart from one misguided Central Park fantasy sequence that feels like filler, the 77-minute Tadpole has the economy of a New Yorker story—from the good old days, Oscar would hasten to add.

Yes, the critics are right that Tadpole often looks like shit with its poor digital-video image quality, but until (if?) Woody Allen returns to form, the Manhattan-set romantic comedy genre is well represented by this sweet and deceptively wise little movie.

bmiller@seattleweekly.com

 
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