(Gary Winick, USA, 2002)


In America, Tadpole was sold – unsuccessfully – as a saucy teen comedy, but in Australia it rides on its credentials as an ingeniously cheap, independent film. Directed by Gary Winick under the auspices of his company InDigEnt (Independent Digital Entertainment), it is a curious object, neither mainstream nor innovative. But it will no doubt launch a few notable careers.

The script by Heather McGowan and Niels Mueller, and the prospect of an unfussy, intimate shoot, attracted actors of the calibre of Sigourney Weaver and John Ritter. The central performer, Aaron Stanford, is a real find. He plays Oscar, one of those precocious, only-in-the-movies intellectuals who only ever seems to read one book (it's by Voltaire).

The setting is New York, so Oscar is something of an adolescent Woody Allen figure. His fantasies are fixed on his sophisticated but possibly unhappy stepmother, Eve (Weaver). However, a reckless evening spent with Eve's voracious best friend Diane (Bebe Neuwirth), creates some agonising complications for Oscar.

This is an enjoyable movie despite, not because of, its digital means. It would be hard to find a less good-looking film. Faces are colourless and blotchy, light washes out shots, and the camera shakes or shoves up for unflattering close-ups. Only the charm of the actors and the wit of the script save proceedings.

Winick describes Tadpole as a novella-like tale. It runs for scarcely 70 minutes, with extended credits at the end to qualify for feature distribution. That would be fine if the film felt complete, but its narrative seems to be only three quarters there.

Some of the juiciest complications, such as the erotic interest that a trio of Diane's friends take in Oscar, never kick in. And the Wonder Years-style resolution is all too speedy, predictable and comfortable. The insistent use of Charles Aznavour's "She" on the soundtrack keeps prompting an unfortunate reminder of Notting Hill (1999).

MORE Winick: 13 Going on 30

© Adrian Martin December 2002

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
home    reviews    essays    search