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IN SHORT: OK, if not better, for the arthouse. [Rated PG-13 for Sexual Content, Mature Thematic Elements and Language. 77 minutes]
Based on the email we've received over the last decade, give or take a year, we can break our audience down into three simple categories: the group who wouldn't be caught dead in an arthouse and the 180 degrees to the flip side for those who won't look beyond the indie circuit, as a measure of "serious" film making. We try to write for everyone that falls in between, for whom Tadpole will be seen on tape or DVD. It is a film in which a known film actress is supported by one sitcom star and gets trump'ed by another. It is one of those films that certainly is enjoyable enough but not so that we can rant and rave. A simple "it's OK" will have to do.
And it's a sure sign of summertime fatigue when it takes a full paragraph of space to say what is properly summarized on one sentence. The fatigue factor makes our fingers work independently of our brain. Sometimes they amaze us, those digits do.
So, here's fifteen year old Park Avenue rich kid, Oscar Gruman (Aaron Stanford). Oscar is starting to feel those sexual urges and is internally confident enough to (finally) do something about it. Dad (John Ritter) is tossing prospects his way with an enthusiasm that virtually reeks of trying to repair the damages of, we're assuming, a nasty divorce a long long time ago. Oscar's stepmom, Eve (Sigourney Weaver - click for CrankyCritic® StarTalk) is doing the same. Her femme friends are beginning to cackle about the budding grown up in their midst, who can quote and discuss Voltaire. . .
Here's the catch with Tadpole. It's definitely told from the kidlet's point of view. That scene with the clique of friends is shot to show Oscar's fine grasp of the philosophic arts, something long forgotten by the age of forty (even though its point is to lay the pitch of "a forty year old mind in a fifteen year old body" on the table). From the adult POV, our 40 year old eyes see a group of adults reacting to kidlet spouting that can only be properly described and "cute" or "precious". That's either a flaw in direction or a misinterpretation by the battered remnants of what we once called a brain. Either way, it is a nod to the script and performances that we didn't shut down right then, in a scene that concludes with one of the grown-up friends giving the kid her number.
Of course, said friend doesn't know that one of her compatriots, Diane (Bebe Neuwirth) found the kidlet drunk as a skunk on the street, earlier in the film. She took him in, of course. The how and why of what came next, as well as any explanation we could render, is reserved for your viewing pleasure. Tadpole is treading a fine line with its major story idea, and it handles this diversion well.
That "major story idea" is the simple fact that the only woman Oscar wants is stepmom. The intellectual argument -- all this kid has got that gets him compliments is his intellectual firepower -- is that since there's no biological connection there's no connection at all. The power of this script, and the performances that come with it, is that the whole damned thing didn't get our moral hackles up. Oscar's best friend, Charlie (Robert Iler -- if you're not watching The Sopranos on HBO, go out and rent it, now) puts it as simply as any teen can rightfully put it -- "You want to sleep with your mom???!!". Deep down, Oscar has already put his argument in place. Where Tadpole will live or die, of course, is in what happens when this desire becomes known to the object of desire.
Whichever way it goes, it can't win. If it had managed that, you'd be seeing the quotes of flabbergasted critics raving about a perfect movie. It's unfortunate that the weight of this script (and the need to make us believe what the character believes) falls on the shoulders of a previously unknown actor. The ability to act "far beyond your years" is a difficult enough feat for experienced thespians and, even with an experienced director (we raved about Gary Winick's last film, The Tic Code. Rent that, too.) The best that you're going to get is a character that is believable, even if the overall story isn't.
We're trying to point fingers every which way we can on this one, folks. If you are of the "art house only" group mentioned above, you'll find Tadpole close to the second Coming. The rest of us grownups will go for the star names and come away shrugging.
The fifteen years olds -- and the MPAA Rating is not out of line on this one -- will come out rooting for the kid with the funny name. At least, the guys will.
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Ten Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Tadpole, he would have paid . . .
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