Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Tadpole

2000's TADPOLE occupies its short (barely 80 min.) running time with a very familiar plot: younger man is seduced by wiser, older woman. But this boy is not as naive as his cinematic progenitors. Oscar (Aaron Stanford) is a 15 year old who favors Volatire and speaks French. He can't relate to/has little interest in girls his own age. There perhaps is nature and nurture at work here: his divorced father, with whom he lives in Manhattan, is a university professor and his mother is a Frenchwoman back in her mother country (Oscar makes frequent visits).

Dad (John Ritter) has remarried, to an attractive research scientist named Eve (Sigourney Weaver) with whom Oscar is horribly smitten. He loves everything about her. Her air of sophistication. Her physical beauty. Her red scarf. Especially her hands. He seems to have a hand fetish. Those teenage girls' hands are just so, girlish.

One night, after a desultory walk home with his father's friend's daughter, Oscar gets tipsy and is spied by family friend Diane (Bebe Neuwirth), who is an alluring forty-something. She brings him home and before he knows it, he awakens next to her. It was all so confusing. She (a masseuse) had given him an innocent massage and was wearing that red scarf she borrowed from Eve. She had mature womanly hands. Oscar is somewhat horrified, feeling as if he has betrayed Eve, and sent the wrong signals to Diane. Ensuing is an entertaining, low key comedy of awkwardness, one Eric Rohmer might've made.

TADPOLE is a very low budget film, its cheap look sometimes hampering things, though the delights of upper class Manhattan are near impossible to taint. Gary Winick's direction is mostly nimble and light, the right approach. But the actors carry this movie. The best scene is a dinner with the four principals, one where both verbal and physical comedy both illuminate the characters and further the plot. I could've easily seen Spencer Tracy, Claudette Colbert et al performing this scene.

Interesting is that Weaver's Eve is not made into a luminary, a larger than life angel; she's a fairly drab, ordinary (though quite attractive) woman whose intelligence is obvious but perhaps does not match Oscar's.

Quotes from Volatire preface each chapter, the sort of device I usually enjoy but by now seems worn, too easy. As if the film is trying too hard.  Sometimes even pretentious. Thankfully, most of TADPOLE lets the actors occupy spaces and act naturally, even if the scenario is derivative of many that came before. It's really all about them, and they are what drive an often unskillfully paced (how does such a short film feel drawn out?) film, often feeling like someone's home movie. Though, certainly more enjoyable and wittier than your nephew's Justin Bieber impersonation.

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